Beyond the label of culture

here's how to see beyond the label of culture that I talked about at the beginning of August:

The first step is to take a definition of culture that appeals to you. There are many beyond the ubiquitous 'the way we do things round here' and the two already mentioned in this article. One that works to unpack is O'Reilly and Chatman's "A system of shared values, defining what is important, and norms, defining appropriate attitudes and behaviours, that guide members' attitudes and behaviours."

The next step is to identify your label, for example you may say, 'We have (or want) a culture of innovation'.

The third step is to 'unpack' that in terms of one of the many definitions of culture. O'Reilly and Chatman's is one I like: "A system of shared values, defining what is important, and norms, defining appropriate attitudes and behaviours, that guide members' attitudes and behaviours." . The important parts of the this definition are 'shared values, defining what is important, norms, appropriate attitudes and behaviours, guiding members attitudes and behaviours. Unpack by asking a lot of questions using 'who, what, when, where, how, why'? Below is a question set for the first two items of the definition.

Shared values
What are your shared values?
How do you know these values are shared? (You need evidence for this)
Why are these shared values important (in terms of achieving your business strategy)
Who shares these values – are they shared by everyone or just some people
Where are these values shared – across the whole organisation, in pockets?
When are they shared/not shared i.e. what circumstances or contexts foster sharing values?

Defining what is important
What is important to the organisation?
How do the shared values help define this? (You need evidence here)
Who defines what is important and thus fosters the values? (Or do the values foster what's important?)
Why do the values need to define what's important? Do they do this or is there a disconnect between what's important and any values demonstrated or stated?
When does the link between defining what's important and shared values come into play – in what circumstances?
Where in the organisation is it obvious that shared values help define what is important? What can you learn from this?

From these two question sets you can see how to develop your question sets for the other three items of this definition: norms, appropriate attitudes and behaviours, guiding members' attitudes and behaviours.

Ask the questions of a random sample of the organisation (or part of it that you are interested in). You're likely to find that you get a surprising variety of answers, but several common themes.

Once you have the themes in hand the fourth step is to look at what you want to keep (and why) and what you want to shape or change (and why). As a fifth step look at what you currently have that is already shaping your culture – often it is performance measures, reward systems, job designs, work flows, and other infrastructure elements that form boundaries – much as the choice of suitcase shapes your packing strategies and the amount of stuff you can fit in: changing the infrastructure changes the possibilities.

The speed at which you can change a culture, if that's what you want to do, depends on many factors but regardless of leadership enthusiasm or edict it is not an over-night switch. John Chambers is in his seventh year of changing Cisco's culture. Lou Gerstner took a similar amount of time at IBM, and Alan Mulally at Ford is in his fourth year 'with a long way to go'. What these leaders recognised was that they could label the culture they aspired to, but that getting to it takes patience, persistence and a detailed understanding of social and infrastructure nuances, complexities and relationships.