Changing the DNA in organizations


Culture in organizations is something that is usually difficult to grasp, however, has a great impact on everyday lives of each member of a company.

What is culture?
According to Andrew D. Brown, author of “Organizational culture”, Organization culture is the pattern of beliefs, values and learned ways of coping with experience that have developed during the course of an organization’s history. This means that for culture:

  • It is a set of accepted values, assumptions and shared common experiences.
  • It is something we learn and unconsciously acquire. It is not inherited.
  • It dictates behavior, etiquette, manners and protocol.

Getting more specific, we can say about culture:

  • It influences how we act and respond.
  • It is “how we do/say things around here.”
  • It is communication: how people create, send, process and interpret information.

Culture manifests itself in aspects of an organization like:

  • Values (qualities considered worthwhile like “solidarity”)
  • Beliefs (assumptions what is good for the business and how to act in the best manner)
  • Climate (feeling or atmosphere, noticeable in the physical layout of work spaces and how employees act with each other)
  • Norms (standards and rules)
  • Symbols (icons, stories, rituals and traditions that embody strong messages about what is important)
  • Philosophy (Stated policies and ideologies that guide actions in relation to shareholders, employees and customers).

How could culture be analyzed?
You could conduct interviews or survey-based interrogations considering the above mentioned manifestations of a culture within an organizations. Alternatively, you could make use of a quick culture analysis that was created by Ed Schein, a former MIT professor in the fields of career development and organization culture. Schein stated that there are three crucial aspects when it comes to understand more of a culture an organization currently has. You have to look out for three specific elements:

  • Membership: What is to be done, how to think, act and behave to be a part of this organization?
  • Taboos: What is a “no go” in this culture, what should one not say or do, what leads to sanctions or even to exclusion?
  • Success and promotion: What needs to be done to stick out and to obtain
    a good reputation in this organization, to make a career and to probably become an internal “hero”?


Ask these questions to a number of different employees within the organization and across different hierarchy levels. Start by inviting people to a few individual interviews, consolidate some of the insights you have gathered and then conduct a few workshops with small groups of employees to deepen your understanding of the organization’s culture.

How could culture be changed?
Well, anyone who has tried doing this, may have found out that quick fixes are generally not working in this area of change management.
It might be helpful to focus more on the aspects of what you can see and feel in regards to culture interventions: influencing people’s behaviour. Leandro Herrero, author of “Viral change” gives us a number of tips on what to do in order to change an organization’s culture via the behaviour of employees:

  • Think of „culture“ as a point of destination (once we have these behaviours established, we will have that culture).
  • Think of culture as a point of departure, when you are visualizing a future: imagine that we have a culture of X where people behave like A, B, C.
  • Think short-term: which behavioural changes can be made now to start triggering „the infection“?
  • When you describe your culture (to your peers, staff, external world) use any labels you feel appropriate, but make sure to attach the behaviours behind those labels.
  • Put behaviours before processes. To achieve change, focus your energy on behavioural change, not process change. Let behaviours, not processes, drive the „new culture“.
  • Spot any „new routines“, desirable or undesirable, created via tipping points and try to understand the viral network behind them.

And now it’s your turn:
Please let me and others know: What cultural challenges are you currently facing? And what do you plan or already do to bring culture change about?
I look forward to your feedback!

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