Notwithstanding the fact that most people have now accepted the inevitability of ongoing change, change initiatives seldom deliver the results that management anticipate. Why is this so?
In this blog, I examine one of the many variables that makes achieving sustainable change so difficult – organisational culture.
The 3 levels of Organisational Culture
The 3 levels of culture are:
- Visible patterns of behaviour manifested as a consequence of strategy, structure and systems
- Values and beliefs that are the means used to accomplish organisational goals and reflect the goals of the organisation
- Underlying assumptions thar are the taken for granted assumptions about the organisational reality
Let us examine each of these 3 layers in more detail:
Visible Conscious Patterns
- We see culture reflected in the strategy, structure and systems.
- These are the observable components of culture.
- These are generally the first levers of change. Because they are about doing i.e. they are observable, they only represent ~8% of the impact on cultural change
- This is why so many change programs are not sustainable. Change programs need to include the invisible elements of 2. and 3. below
Subconscious Values and Beliefs
- The values, attitudes and beliefs emerge in the goals of the organisation
- Values, attitudes and beliefs affect the way people behave in achieving these goals
- The collective values of the organisation reflect what is important to people who work there – the behaviours that are acceptable and unacceptable
- Beliefs flow from values. Beliefs also develop over time from symbols, traditions and stories from the past
- Values and beliefs are entrenched at the subconscious level
Invisible Unconscious Underlying Assumptions
- The underlying assumptions and beliefs, that are held, are the major drivers of culture.
- If there is inconsistency between the three layers of culture, the organisation can become dysfunctional and the organisation becomes relatively ineffective.
- This is evident during times of change when there is misalignment between the new strategy, structure and systems and the values, beliefs and underlying assumptions.
- When the three layers are aligned and fit with the needs and expectations of customers/clients equilibrium is re-established. This is reflected in the performance of the organisation. An effective organisation is ‘in the flow’ and brings with it a more settled and focused feel.
Change doesn’t deliver because management focus is on the wrong layer
Management generally give 90% of their focus to the visible conscious layer i.e. visible patterns of behaviour as manifested through strategy, structure and systems. In reality this layer only accounts for approximately 9% of change.
The more powerful parts are not so easily seen. Culture emanates from the underlying values, beliefs and assumptions which dominate and influence the behaviour of individuals. This is represents 92% of the total cultural influences and deals with the invisible unconscious, namely layers 2 and 3 (values and beliefs and underlying assumptions). Unless leaders engage individuals at these levels, any change will be temporary at best.
To obtain a more detailed understanding of organisational culture and how to change it using 10 cultural factors, get the Strategic Fit Culture Module – Creating Organisational Change.