Reinforcing Cycle of Culture Building
Organizational culture is quite simply "how we do things around here." While there are many similarities between organizational cultures the culture of each organization is actually quite unique, and for very good reason. The culture of an organization is something that emerges over time as depicted in Fig. 1 [Wehrenberg 2009].
- Events happen.
- Those events eventually begin to cluster into patterns, particularly the repeated events.
- As part of our human tendency to “summarize” or chunk information, we create stories that describe the patterns and can represent a collection of patterns.
- To further reduce complexity to simple concepts, we use heroes as the shortest way to describe repeated patterns—a hero can represent a collection of successful stories.
- Eventually, the hero stories become culture—“We do things that way around here because we revere our heroes, and that’s how they did it.” (It is worth noting that culture can be so far removed from the events and patterns that people may not even know of those connections.)
- Culture influences the structure of organizations and their key processes (decision making, resource allocation, etc.), which are intended to influence behavior, which in turn creates events.
And so the cycle continues.
Culture as a Driver of Change
The framework in Fig. 1 helps explain the strength of culture, and why assertions of “We are going to change our culture”—as if one could reach out and turn a dial to a new set of behaviors—rarely result in change. It also points to a mechanism whereby culture can be altered:
- use events to create new patterns, or restructure events to illuminate different patterns;
- create new stories; and then
- identify new heroes.
- ↑ Wehrenberg, Stephen (2009) The Coast Guard Charts a Course for Enterprise Change Management, Global Business and Organizational Excellence, Nov/Dec 2009. Wiley InterScience