Current Culture: A Starting Point for Change

“The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture. If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.”

–Edgar Schein, professor MIT Sloan School of Management

I often hear leaders talk about the need to change organizational culture. According to Schein, in most organizational change efforts, it is much easier to draw on the strengths of the current culture than to overcome the constraints by changing the culture.

So, how do we better understand current culture?

First, don’t rely solely on your perspective (or that of the senior team). Gather perspectives from across the organization. Some questions to help you get started include:

• What does it take to be successful in this organization?
• What does the work place “feel” like? How do people interact? What language is used?
• What behaviors are expected? How are they rewarded? What behaviors have negative consequences?
• What sorts of things are discussed in newsletters, the intranet, and other internal/external documents? What “face” is being presented to the outside world?
• What stories do people tell about the organization or its “heroes?”
• What values are stressed? How are they communicated? How are they reinforced?
• What ceremonies are celebrated?
• Are there “rites of passage” such as promotion ceremonies and retirement parties?
• What regular get-togethers are practiced (e.g., holiday parties, social events, and company softball games)?

Once you have a handle on your current culture (again from a variety of perspectives) you can determine what culture is needed to help you accomplish organizational strategies.

Related Articles: Leverage Company Culture as a Competitive Advantage; Successfully Lead Change

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