The House of Culture

Kevin Weitz, Psy.D.

I have often found the subject of organizational culture to be a difficult one to discuss with clients. Leaders facing the need for culture change often struggle with the apparent vagueness and scope of culture and what is required to shape it. However, the analogy of a “house” seems to have resonated with people and I have adopted this over time. Some clients have extended this concept to include the notion of communities living and working together in a harmonious way, reflecting the notion of functional business units or teams needing to partner or collaborate effectively and efficiently to produce products and services that win in the markets.

s200_kevin.weitzSimilar to the many unique communities, homes and buildings that populate our country’s landscape, organizational cultures are all very different in order to create homes and workplaces for the diverse employees in our country. Each “House of Culture” must be designed and built for the unique needs of the organization and its inter-connection with its customers and ecosystem.

Building a New House of Culture

With a focus on outcomes, I identify five phases of execution that I have found to be necessary to be successful in an organizational culture change initiative. I identify this as the “FACES” Execution Process (Focus, Analyze, Construct, Execute, Sustain). I have applied these phases in an integrated way in various organizations. An important requirement built into this process is that the focus be not only on culture in isolation of other important business processes, such as strategic direction, business goals and process alignment. When companies attempt to change culture in isolation of other important factors, the initiatives tend to have limited impact, largely because (as Edgar Schein emphasized), culture must be focused on a business problem or strategic challenge.

Companies tend to approach culture change in a mechanistic way – making changes to performance management processes, human resources policies, compensation systems and business processes. Section 5 reminds readers that culture change is not only about corporate level changes, but also about people. Relatively little has been written about how individual employees experience culture transformation in the workplace.

When organizations undergo a culture change initiative, employees are almost always exhorted to think and behave differently to support a new strategic direction, but companies seldom provide guidance and skills that help employees change mindsets and behaviors. Techniques such as mindfulness and “brainspotting”, as well as techniques from the world of competitive sports, such as behavioral imaging are explored for application in an organizational setting. These techniques are described so that individuals can learn and apply these to changing behaviors, particularly when the behavior change is radically different from what they may have experienced previously.

I also highlight a number of other factors that are often underemphasized in culture research and writings and which can have a significant impact on individuals both positively and negatively. Topics such as happiness, positivity and fear in the workplace are explored. These are powerful drivers and can positively or negatively impact organizational culture. Furthermore, increasingly hiring and retaining top talent is becoming a major focus for organizations. Too often employees are hired into an organization, particularly at senior levels in order to somehow influence the culture, but they are unprepared, and receive little support, or simply become swallowed up by the culture.

The Changing Workplace

For individuals working in a company in the 21st century, the workplace is changing rapidly, but not quickly enough in all regards. The model from the past century that required all employees to be physically present in the workplace from (the infamous) “nine to five” is still present but is changing. As organizations attempt to reduce cost and become global, the virtual workplace is becoming more common. Also, the new generation of workers, especially talented tech workers, are demanding different models and conditions for work. This section also describes how this new thinking about the workplace is influencing the work environment and culture.

Global companies operating in countries around the world are challenged by the surprisingly different behavioral values and norms of conduct in the various countries, and expatriate employees struggle to understand these norms and how to interact at a personal level. More complex is that reality that there are often multiple individuals from different countries working closely together. How do groups like this find a way to interact in a respectful and courteous manner?

Getting Started

Embarking on a culture transformation initiative should not be taken lightly by a leadership team – it takes commitment and significant resources. What I have used effectively with numerous leadership teams is an assessment of their current state and understanding of all of the elements (described in the House of Culture) that may influence the organization’s culture. This tool is used as the foundation of a dialogue amongst executive team to decide their current state and decide on the need and scope of a culture transformation initiative. Once the decision is made to move forward, a focused team would be assembled based on the key areas identified within assessment discussion. Once this team is assembled, a detailed project plan would be developed based on the FACES approach and rigorously managed.

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For further information on this project contact Dr. Kevin Weitz.