Culture: Who are we?

THE MAIN POINT (73 seconds reading time)
Climate is how an individual feels about the group. Morale is how an individual feels to be part of the group. Culture is emotional – the heart of the organization.Harold Kurstedt

A leader manages the organization’s culture. I’ve mentioned the differences between the organization’s identity, culture, climate, morale, and mission. One thing is clear. We must sort out our identity, culture, and mission before we can deal with strategy or structure. These concepts must be defined in any strategic planning exercise.

Organizational development experts try to provide mechanisms for diagnosing your identity and culture. These mechanisms are similar to those we use in psychology to diagnose a person’s personality type. Personality is how a person deals with the world; and the most popular mechanism (instrument) for diagnosing your personality is the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). I suspect most of you have had the opportunity to determine your type. If you haven’t had the opportunity, the website www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp is one of many places you can fill in the instrument, determine your type, and receive some information on how your type typically deals with the world. The value in having this information is that you not only understand yourself better, but you have a better understanding that we each have different gifts and perspectives and that’s a good thing. I bring up personality typing here because people type an organization’s identity or culture for the same valuable reasons.

A typology typically has two or more dimensions for determining where your organization fits within a spectrum of different types.  For example, one approach to classifying identity (by Laurence Ackerman) diagnoses an organization according to the dimensions of how structured the organization is and the decision-making style in the organization.  His typology yields four different results for identity: Settlers, Builders, Conservators, and Innovators.  He shows engineering organizations in the Settlers category.  The Settlers category has a more structured organization (organized around specific jobs and explicit responsibilities and the opposite is the innovators which is based on a fluid organization where responsibilities are variable.)  Also, there are several decision making styles, one being a more intuitive decision-making style (because design decisions involve imagination, insight, and creativity) whereas the opposite is a statistical or sensing decision style.  The point is that we need to recognize where we fit on two or more dimensions (identity and decision making style) which characterize company functioning.  The organization’s identity reflects the business we’re in.  Identity is a big influence on culture.

 

THE FOLLOW UP (127 seconds reading time)

If we want to change the organization’s climate (remember the climate surveys), we’re interested in changing behaviors. Relatively speaking, we can change behaviors more quickly. If we want to change the organization’s culture, we’re interested in changing attitudes. Changing attitudes takes more time and effort than changing behaviors. However, for most people, they will easily change behavior once their attitude changes. Therefore, changing attitude (culture) is more fundamental and more permanent than changing behavior.

An example of the difference between culture and climate has to do with information. To make good decisions, we need good information. To get good information (timely, accurate, relevant), we need good communication. The culture may reflect an attitude of hoarding information. The climate may have to do with quality of communication. In almost every climate survey in any organization, individuals will say, “I don’t get the information I need.” or “I don’t think we have good communication.” or “We need better communication in our company.” We can address this issue in company culture by changing communication channels and vehicles (changing behavior). However, the attitude might be, “We don’t share information readily around here.” or “Information is power and power is job security.” We can change behavior more easily than attitude and the new behavior will last for a relatively short time if the culture doesn’t change.

Climate surveys seek to find out what individuals think about what has or does occur within the organization (for example, how bosses supervise or how peers interact). In culture, we want to find out what people believe is needed to get the outcomes they want or what they should do to fit into the organization. Because of your organization’s climate you may say, “I think my boss appreciates my views.” Because of your organization’s culture, you may say, “We believe in mutual respect around here.” Mutual respect should cause anyone to appreciate his or her subordinates’ views. Culture is more foundational than climate.

Consider a new reward system. People can accept the new policies and procedures but not agree with the principles behind them. The climate changes in a few months toward the goals of the new system. Executives think they’re successful in changing the reward system. But, in their hearts, people may not hold the aim of the system. Their values and traditions regarding rewards, recognition, appraisals, and pay and what it takes to implement the rewards and pay won’t change quickly. The culture doesn’t change quickly. Executives won’t be truly successful until the culture changes.

Climate is how an individual feels about the group. Morale is how an individual feels to be part of the group. Culture is emotional – the heart of the organization. In climate, for example, you think your group is a good group and the group members are responsive to each other. In morale, you love to be part of the group, to participate in the group’s activities, and to do the group’s work. Four essential conditions for high morale are leadership, discipline, comradeship and self-respect. It’s also important to participate in a devotion to a cause. One of the measures of leadership is the morale of the group.

You can always spot a company that promotes positive morale. Despite problems and frustrations, the good feelings between its management and employees allow them to work together to find solutions. There is an esprit de corps that even a downturn in business cannot quell. New employees feel the upbeat attitude almost immediately, and as a result, the attrition rate is extremely low.Bruce Baldwin

Bruce Baldwin (motivational writer) says, “You can always spot a company that promotes positive morale. Despite problems and frustrations, the good feelings between its management and employees allow them to work together to find solutions. There is an esprit de corps that even a downturn in business cannot quell. New employees feel the upbeat attitude almost immediately, and as a result, the attrition rate is extremely low.” I have the good fortune to be working with a number of different companies and government organizations during this time of economic difficulty. I can feel the difference in morale instantly and observe how morale affects climate and influences culture.