In a recent post I discussed my experiences of the public and private sectors – and how similar they seemed, on the surface at least.

In that blog I said I would return to that point – where you see the same things but they come from different places, and how important this was for cultural diagnostics.

I’ve used a few diagnostic tools in my time, and some of the most useful look at behaviours in an organisation – what people do. Even better is to uncover the behavioural norms that underly these – what kinds of behaviours do people need to demonstrate in order to get on and get along within an organisation.

Regular readers will know that these form part of the Rousseau culture model – layers two and three of the five-skinned onion, in fact. And these are vitally important = you need to know what people are doing so you can compare it against what you want people to do – defined effective behaviours.

For example, if you are (or are striving to be) an innovative organisation, then you need people to be open and honest about mistakes, because you learn from them and build upon them, in order to produce something new. If, however, you have a culture where people hide mistakes, or look to blame others, then you are likely to repeat the same mistakes and you don’t learn – the behaviours are ineffective.

So behaviours = important, yes? Yes.

Now, imagine you are re-organising, bringing new teams together, perhaps. Or even merging two separate organisations. You take a look, and do a behavioural diagnostic and you see similar behaviours in both sides. Great,you think. Job’s a good ‘un, these two will work together seamlessly, off you pop.

But, being regular readers will know that there is more to culture than the behavioural stuff; there are further layers underneath; there are values and there are the underlying beliefs and assumptions that cause the behavioural norms, and, in turn, the behaviours.

Another example, based on real life; two organisations where people take forever to do things. The behavioural norm is to put things off, prevaricate or otherwise delay implementing things. Clearly this is ineffective behaviour, you need to get things done; no point having a strategy if you’re not executing it, is there?

So how do you address this? Tell people just to get on with it? Just, as someone once said, do it? Fine, try that, and see what happens. Any ideas? Yep, the same thing that always happened, ie not that much.

No, what you need to do is look at the whys and wherefores, understand the reasons behind those behaviours and norms; what values are driving them, what beliefs lie beneath them.

In the example I’m thinking of, there were two organisations. Both had long histories, dating back well over 100 years, proud heritages and, apparently, shared values. Those values were only the ones on the  posters and on the corporate intranets, however; they were the stated or aspirational values, not the actual values; the actual values were quite different.

Organisation A was based in a large city, and was about twice the size of the other organisation in terms of headcount, but just another player in the employment profile of the city; Organisation B was based in a small rural town, and was by far the biggest fish in a tiny, tiny pond.

Organisation A was political; people based their loyalties on a series of mutual favours rather than personal relationships; power was based on knowledge and decisions tended to be made in private, outside of the “official” decision-making forums.

Organisation B was entirely based on personal relationships. Generations of the same family worked there, former schoolmates worked on the  same team, and you were as likely to have a chat about work with a colleague on a night out.

In Organisation A things took forever because the decision to do something was made over a brew between two people prior to them going into a meeting where the decision was apparently going to be made; everyone else at the meeting then spent the next few months trying to change things to support their agenda, stopping things going ahead as originally decided; the upshot was that things took forever to happen.

In Organisation B  decisions were made by consensus; everyone involved had to be happy with every aspect of the decision, every sharp corner had to be smoothed off, because the person who might have caught the sharp end could be bad-mouthing you in the pub on Friday night; everything was gone through in detail and over and over again, each iteration being run past everyone again to make sure they were happy with it; the upshot was that things took forever to happen.

So, they looked the same, but the reasons they happened were very different, and so needed addressing in different ways; where it went well leaders looked to pull out the positive aspects of both and I ran quite a few workshops on decision-making, demonstrating the value of dialogue over debate and how decision-making by consent tends to be more effective than decision-making by consensus. You could tell which workshop attendees were Organisation A people and which were Organisation B people just by how they related to this workshop, which was fascinating in itself.

So how did we get this insight? That would be telling, suffice to say I have more tools in my toolbox than just behavioural diagnostics. What I hope to demonstrate from this blog is the advantages you can get of going that bit deeper into the layers of the cultural onion.

Have a think, then, about different parts of your organisation, where you see similar behaviours. What lies beneath? Not the schlocky film with Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, but beneath those behaviours. Is it the same thing? Or is it different values, different beliefs, driving similar outcomes?

It’s important, because if those behaviours aren’t working out for you, then you need to change them, and to do that, you really need to understand what’s causing them, don’t you?

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