Beyond the Way that We Do Things

We Spend too much of our time fixing people who are not broken, & not enough time fixing organization systems that are broken
We Spend too much of our time fixing people who are not broken, & not enough time fixing organization systems that are broken
  • 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.
Image of Gary DePaul holding a copy of Rummler’s Serious Performance Consulting book
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:

Learning an organization’s culture

Rummler explains that members of the organization learn about culture:

  1. By observing the consequences of another’s behavior (vicarious learning)
  2. By experiencing rewards and punishments for their own behaviors

Rummler’s critical insight into the meaning of organizational culture

Rummler writes:

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

  • 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.
Image of a magnet attracting lightbulbs with a caption, “Collecting Ideas”
Image of a magnet attracting lightbulbs with a caption, “Collecting Ideas”

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.

_____________

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).

Notation

For the first and third images in this blog, I purchased the usage rights from Shutterstock. Please do not use these images without purchasing usage rights.

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.

Written by

Gary is a speaker, author, researcher, and leadership futurist. https://www.garyadepaul.com

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