Volume 137, December 2014: Culture-Shaping

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, 2014 ISSN # 1545-8873

“If you want to find your culture, just try to change it.” – Kurt Lewin

The root term “cult” means to grow. The purpose of a culture is to preserve its members, which calls for safety, stability, and predictability. Within the culture are norms or informal rules about how people are to operate – “the way things are done around here.” These accepted practices are typically not written down, but learned by living in the culture and especially by breaking its rules.

Deal and Kennedy (1982) elaborated on the concept of Corporate Culture, first introduced by Edgar Schein. You cannot engineer change around a culture – you have to work through it. Yet you are like a fish in water – you do not see the culture you are floating in, until you try to change it, and then it reports to you your infraction. You must cultivate change, not try to over-control it.

Change efforts fail because they are not anchored in the culture. How can you architect cultural change? By working these levers:

  • Articulating the values of the organization
  • Being ever present (Management By Wandering Around)
  • Creating experiences and story-telling in ways that teach values
  • Role modeling (Walking the Talk)
  • Creating policies, procedures, and practices consistent with the cultural values
  • Using symbols (e.g., space, rewards, rituals, ceremonies)
  • Using language (what gets talked about and how)
  • Giving attention to heroes/heroines (who gets recognition/who is believed and why)
  • Articulating how decisions get made (command, consultative, or consensus)
  • Create a Guiding Coalition of thought leaders, where all are empowered to speak, and have faith in their group decision-making process. When the culture is upset, communication fills the void. Keep the message positive and simple, looping the communication through varied media. Get everyone involved. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Practice Point

Take a snapshot of your culture by asking outsiders and new hires to describe the culture they encountered as they entered your organization. Apply your learning to the cultural levers above and strengthen your ability to shape culture.


Buy MK’s latest book!