Changing the Organizational Culture

16 Nov

I recently read an article that used rerouting a river as an analogy for changing organizational culture. It’s a fantastic illustration, because left on its own a river will go where it wants, just like organizational culture! It is also a great analogy because rerouting a river is not a small undertaking.

1895896_s_Pier ConstructionWhen a group like the Army Corps of Engineers or a Hydro-Electric Company decides to reroute a river, you can be assured that it involves more than a poster campaign. The undertaking starts with a study of the existing situation, not just what is seen at the surface, but what is going on underneath. It will require intentional planning and an investment of time and resources.

For those serious about changing organizational culture, the effort will require a deep-dive below the surface. Cultural change is performed within the riverbed of an organization, which is at the level of values. Values drive what is important and unimportant, what is right and wrong and what is acceptable and unacceptable. And most importantly values drive behaviour. Why is this important? Because the collection of acceptable and expected behaviours is the very definition of organizational culture. A desire to change the organizational culture is simply a desire to change certain behaviours within the organization. If you want to change the culture, you want to change behaviours and therefore you must examine the values that are driving those behaviours.

There are two major categories of organizational values. First there are those values that create the work environment. These are the types of values that most organizations profess, like respect and trust. Secondly, there are the values that define the unique essence of the organization, the so-called Core Values. Core Values shape and influence the way in which the organizational purposes are accomplished.

Changing culture is a values-based activity. In order to appropriately change the organizational culture, you must first define the behaviours that you desire to change and then define the organizational values that drive those behaviours. A forensic study of behaviours and values should define the type of change that is required to achieve the desired result. Once the change is made, the measure of success will be the change in behaviour.

Robert Ferguson

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