Can you change a culture?
Us folks at OrgVitality have a view of the “vital” organization that includes concepts of ambidexterity, agility and resilience. These concepts can be operationalized to promote the creation of a culture that makes those characteristics a way of life in the organization.
I found a recent article (Lengnick-Hall, Beck and Lengnick-Hall, 2010) titled, “Developing a capacity for organizational resilience through strategic human resource management.” Their message of creating and sustaining a culture through human resource processes is a powerful concept.
These authors define resilience as:
“…a firm’s ability to effectively absorb, develop situation-specific responses to, and ultimately engage in transformative activities to capitalize on disruptive surprises that potentially threaten organization survival.” They go on to propose that resilience should be created through individual knowledge, skills, and abilities and organizational routines and processes.
This is good stuff but I think they have missed an opportunity to talk about creating a culture through behavior change. Culture has a lot of definitions, but a couple are consistent with this view of behavior being a key factor. I have been drawn to an observable and measurable definition of culture offered by Bossidy and Charan (2002) in their seminal book, Execution: The discipline of getting things done,:
“The culture of a company is the behavior of its leaders. Leaders get the behavior they exhibit and tolerate.”
While many traditionalists will argue with such a “superficial” treatment of culture, it was foreshadowed by Kotter and Heskett (1992) who refined their definition of culture with this statement: “…culture represents the behavior patterns or style of an organization that new employees are automatically encouraged to follow by their fellow employees.” (p. 4)
This definition is too limiting in not directly acknowledging that the “fellow employees” who have the most impact on creating the culture are the leaders of that organization.
Let’s return to the resilience article. I looked for statements of behaviors that might be useful for creating a culture of resilience, particularly defined in terms of leader behavior that could easily be fodder for a 360 or upward feedback process. Fortunately for me, there is a section called, “Behavioral elements of organizational resilience.” Their language is somewhat academic (e.g., “nonconforming strategic repertoires”), but here are some examples of behaviors that I propose support their conceptualization of resilience:
- Encourages new solutions to problems
- Finds new strategies that are different from the past and industry norms
- Takes the initiative and moves quickly to overcome challenges
- Ensures that new and creative solutions are consistent with organizational goals and values
- Challenges the status quo
- Encourages the discarding of obsolete information and practices
- Recognizes and rewards behaviors that demonstrate flexibility and resourcefulness
They list a whole raft of HR policies, principles and practices that can support the development of resilience, including things like after-action reviews, open architecture, broad job descriptions, employee suggestions, and cross-departmental task forces. They reference a need to include performance reviews (“results-based appraisals) that encourage the right activities.
But nowhere is 360 feedback mentioned as a potentially powerful tool to reinforce and create culture change. Here are a few ways that 360 processes can be integral parts of a culture change initiative:
- Defines the construct (e.g., resilience) in behavioral terms
- Communicates the construct as an organizational priority (i.e., is being measured)
- Potentially communicates to all employees (raters, ratees) on a repeated basis
- Creates a metric for tracking progress over time
- Creates a metric for identifying individual, team, and organizational gaps in performance
- Creates accountability for behavior consistent with organizational needs
- Supports aligned HR practices when integrated with other HR systems (e.g., development, staffing, succession planning, performance reviews, high potential development)
This list makes some assumptions about the design and implementation of 360 processes that support culture change. That is such a large topic that it would require an entire book. Stay tuned for that.
I am amazed and disappointed that a major treatise on what is in effect culture change would not include 360 feedback as at least worth consideration as a supporting HR practice. It makes me wonder why that is.
Bossidy, L, and Charan, R. (2002). Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. New York: Crown Business.
Kotter, J.P., and Heskett, J.L. (1992). Corporate Culture and Performance. New York: Free Press.
Lengnick-Hall, C.A., et al. (2010). Developing a capacity for organizational resilience through strategic human resource management. Human Resource Management Review, doi:10.1016/j.hrmr.2010.07.001.
©2011 David W. Bracken