Beyond the Way that We Do Things

Culture According to Rummler

Gary A. DePaul, PhD (he/him/his)


We Spend too much of our time fixing people who are not broken, & not enough time fixing organization systems that are broken

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.

Image of Gary DePaul holding a copy of Rummler’s Serious Performance Consulting book

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:

  1. Through explanation
  2. By observing the consequences of…