Beyond the Way that We Do Things
Imagine that a CEO asked you to improve the headquarter’s overall performance. During your analysis, you discovered these trends:
- Managers dictate what workers do.
- When problems are imminent, no one alerts management.
- After an inevitable disaster occurs, teammates blame each other.
- Executives brag about their ‘open-door policy’ but managers treat workers who talk with executives as troublemakers.
- Managers use mistakes to rationalize lowering workers’ annual performance ratings.
If you conclude that these trends reflect the corporation’s culture, do you recommend fixing the culture? Do you design several interventions to change how people treat one another?
If he was still around, what would Geary Rummler think about cultural problems? According to Rummler, what’s the performance consultant’s perspective?
Rummler is one of the most recognized practitioners and scholars of organizational performance with several books and more than fifty articles. In one of his books, Serious Performance Consulting: According to Rummler, Rummler discusses culture and how it is relevant for performance consultants.
What is culture?
If you read blogs about culture, you may be aware of the popular belief that culture is “the way we do things around here.”¹ Rummler offers a more specific description:
When two or more people begin to interact regularly, a social system or social relationship begins to evolve. Over time, the system stabilizes in a state of equilibrium in which people behave predictably during repeated events. Some consider predictive behaviors to be similar to established norms or practices.²
Learning an organization’s culture
Rummler explains that members of the organization learn about culture:
- Through explanation
- By observing the consequences of another’s behavior (vicarious learning)
- By experiencing rewards and punishments for their own behaviors
Rummler’s critical insight into the meaning of organizational culture
Organizational culture encompasses the prevailing expectation-consequence relationship that exist (per the HPS) in a particular work environment.
Rummler explains that culture is the result of reinforced behavioral patterns that occur within and among teams.³
Rummler offers the following insights to guide performance consultants as they consider how relevant culture is for improving performance:
- If you identify the expectation-consequence relationships that form reinforced behavioral patterns, you have the data needed to change a culture.
- Rather than being the independent driving variable, culture is a dependent variable.
- Culture is a function of an underlying system.
- The system is the independent driving variable.
How focusing on culture could misguide performance consultants
Anthropologists may define culture as a group’s shared system that includes beliefs, values, and traditions. This shared system shapes the group member’s behaviors. While this definition is sufficient for observing, analyzing, and classifying a social group’s is behaviors,⁴ this definition won’t help performance consultants. Rummler writes:
That [anthropological culture] definition does not offer any useful clues as to how to alter the “is” behavior of the social system, and it might lead people down the frustrating path of trying to alter the “is” state by manipulating such abstractions as values and beliefs.
Rummler stresses that performance consultants should focus on the micro behavioral level versus the anthropological level. The micro behaviors are a starting point to identify gaps between current and desired results, which then leads to mitigation efforts to resolve the gaps.
Performance consulting versus culture change
The performance consultants’ work differs from culture-change initiatives:
…Culture change is never the goal of the serious performance consultant. Closing the gap in results is the goal.
Because culture is a dependent variable, resolving result gaps may be enough to resolve cultural challenges.
Rummler notes that closing the targeted gaps in organizational results and changing cultural behaviors is most likely the equivalent to culture change.
Rummler acknowledges that performance consultants could leverage culture change interventions as part of a solution set. However, culture change interventions must support the efforts to achieve the should AOP and the should HPS.
To learn more about Geary Rummler, refer to http://gearyrummler.com/.
¹ Rummler attributes this popular culture definition to Burke & Litwin’s 1989 article, “A causal Model of Organizational Performance” in The 1989 Annual: Developing Human Resources edited by Pfeiffer (San Diego: University Associates).
² I postulate that organizations do not have one culture but have several cultures. Two teammates may establish their own norms. Likewise, the larger team establishes norms that might differ somewhat from the two teammates’ norms. That same team establishes norms with other teams, but those norms may vary among the different teams. Collectively, observers might associate organizations to have cultural trends that may or may not reflect all the various social relationships. This would explain how a worker could work in a dysfunctional team while another works in a functional one — both within the same organization.
³ In the quotation, I note HPS. Human Performance System (HPS) is one of Rummler’s models. You can find my discussion of HPS and troubleshooting HPS in my book, Nine Practices of 21st Century Leadership. If you want to go to the source, Rummler describes both in Serious Performance Consulting.
⁴ In addition to is behavior, Rummler writes about is AOP and is HPS in contrast with should AOP and should HPS. AOP refers to Rummler’s Anatomy of Performance Model, which reflects a view of an organizational macro system. In contrast, HPS models the micro-level. The is state refers to the current state. The should state refers to the desired state or state of a healthy organization. These concepts are core to Rummler’s diagnostic approach, in which similar to medical doctors, performance consultants compare the organization’s current state to the should state to identify core business issues (Rummler’s CBI). I’ve left out several details in this explanation; I highly recommend reading the full explanation in Rummler’s Serious Performance Consulting.
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About the author
Gary is a Leadership Author, Researcher, Consultant, and Podcast Guest. His latest book, What the Heck Is Leadership and Why Should I Care?, is available in paperback, eBook, and audiobook. You can learn more about Gary and his other books at https://www.garyadepaul.com.