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Culture and How it Relates to Your Organization

How can we understand culture and leadership within organizations if we so loosely define what it means to develop them?

To accurately address this problem we must first acknowledge the essential concepts surrounding organizations. To do this, we will examine four conceptual parameters: development, design, culture, and structure.

Development is the “process by which behavioral science knowledge and practices are used to help organizations achieve greater effectiveness, improved quality of work life and increased productivity” (Cummings & Hughs, 1989, p. 1). Design is “concerned with strategy and the achievement of organizational goals” (George, 2011, p. 19). Changing the design of an organization is easy enough, but changing the structure and the culture in an organization is a far more complex task, one rooted in learning. Culture is learned, and without such a process there could be no cultural change (Bate, Khan, & Pye, 2000). “Culture cannot be seen, defined, or measured, and certainly cannot be changed in the short term. Structure is altogether more visible and tangible a concept, and above all, it can be shaped and controlled, almost independently of organizational reality itself" (Bate et al., 2000, p. 209).

More simply stated, development is a process, design is a concept, culture is a behavior, and structure is an implementation.

The problem lies in the division that exists between those four concepts.

Current trends in change management, organizational development, organizational design, and cultural assessments, isolate those concepts and never allow them to interrelate. This paper would suggest that business solutions must become more eclectic if they are to remain useful in the 21st century. Processes must connect with concepts to produce behaviors that implement change, and until change agents learn to combine these concepts, change initiatives will never materialize beyond the ethereal.

Separating development from design, and culture from structure is devastating to any change initiative.

This paper will argue that an eclectic approach to business solutions is the best. True leadership understands the connectivity between these four concepts and bridges the gap, providing a holistic approach to change.

Although much research addresses business solutions in the areas of development, design, culture, and structure,few theorists advocate a holistic approach that encapsulates all four at once. Bate, et al.’s (2000) model, Culturally Sensitive Restructuring - CSR, however, deals with the relationships that exists between these four concepts. Expanding upon their concepts and aligning with the foundational statement of this paper: development is a process, design is a concept, culture is a behavior, and structure is an implementation; we will examine how the holistic approach is the most effective leadership tool available to today's executives.

"The evolution of an organization's structure is integrally related to the evolution of its culture – and vice versa" (Bate et al., 2000, p. 197).

The close association between these two concepts demands they cannot be addressed in isolation from one another. Leadership must be cognizant of how they interrelate. "The emerging role for . . . organizational leaders is to attend to the dynamics of simultaneous structural and cultural change" (Bate et al., 2000, p. 197).

Bate et al. start off by showing how leadership can be utilized to bring development, design, culture, and structure into one integrated unit. They utilize the following illustration:

This model is comprised of the two sides of an organization.

The first is the human side – behaviors and the development of those behaviors. Culture is the acted out behavior based upon assumptions, values, artifacts, and symbols, whereas development is the processes that lead to those behavioral changes. Culture and development are intangibles in that they cannot be seen, defined or measured (Bate, Khan, & Pye, 2000).

On the opposite side, we find structure and design – the systems side. Here structure differs from design but is still closely related. Design is the bare bones framework on which a more organic, emergent social structure develops” (Bate et al., 2000, p. 199). Structure is the implementation of that design. Design is a concept; structure is the implementation of that concept. This is the tangible side of the model in that it can be observed, defined and measured.

Leadership is the courage to drive the intangible toward the tangible with the intent to collide.

Without leadership development, design, culture, and structure remain isolated subsets, and as a result, processes never connect with concepts to produce behaviors that implement change. Only leadership can realize the potential of the collision.

Current theories postulate that culture is a byproduct of structural change. Beatty and Ulrich's (1991) 5-stage change model and Kotter's (2011) renowned 8-step model support this concept; both of which position cultural change at the very end of the process. Bate et al.'s, (2000) Culturally Sensitive Restructuring model "begins with culture and leaves structure to do what structure does best – which is holding a change rather than trying to create it" (Bate et al., 2000). Although this concept is not currently in the mainstream of academic thought, George (2011) notes that ten of eighteen interviewees, having over twenty years of experience in business consulting believed culture to be a critical element that should not be omitted when doing OD or organizational design. The other eight participants, when asked about their culture experience either worked with another consultant who dealt with the cultural issues or did not consider themselves cultural interventionists" (p.204).

The gap between the concepts of academics and practical application of methods in the area of OD and organizational design is alarming. “Structures and cultures are both catalysts and residues. They are and should be, co-produced" (Bate et al., 2000, p. 209). Understanding this concept, CSR attempts to correct the current academic trend through a four-phased intervention model.

Phase 1 – Cultural Framing

The purpose of this phase is to map out the hidden challenges the organization faces. A useful tool to gain this understanding is the "from/to" chart. It serves as a public record of the vocabulary people are utilizing to frame their expectations for change. It serves as a common ownership of the problems the organization faces. Basically, the chart is a list where people identify that "we want to go from _____ to _____: from fragmentation to integration, from tribes to teams, etc. (Bate et al., 2000).[

Phase 2 – Soft Structuring

This is an attempt to alleviate the tensions among "warring tribes" through intentional confrontation designed to build new connections where battles were once fought. This enables leadership to lay the foundations of collaboration before change is formalized into policy. The key point in this "soft structuring" is to set nothing in stone until people feel their way toward a new structure (Bate et al., 2000).

Phase 3 – Hard Wiring

This phase is only possible after the exercises of phases one and two have been completed. The newly revived potential for collaboration and teamwork can now be put to use. Now the organization is ready to solidify the change into a new organizational design (Bate et al., 2000).

Phase 4 – Retrospecting

"The best-laid plans and strategies can become an institutional straitjacket if the assumptions that drive them and the aspirations that underpin them no longer hold true" (Bate et al., 2000, pp. 206-207).

If an organization adopts the view that development is a process, design is a concept, culture is a behavior, and structure is an implementation, and that processes must connect with concepts to produce behaviors that implement change, they must never abandon that concept. When they do, they freeze and remain frozen until the dysfunction it produces becomes so unbearable that another unfreezing is their only chance for organizational survival. To stay competitive in a 21st-century environment, organizations must avoid freezing culture at all cost. There cannot be an end to the process, and no final design to signify a terminus (Bate et al., 2000).

To summarize the whole concept, culture is not a byproduct of structure. Structure "is an exercise of culture making" (Bate et al., 2000, pp. 209).

Only through leadership, can the intangibles of organizational life collide with the tangibles to produce an exponential release of potential across the organization. When concept meets process and behavior meets implementation, development, design, culture, and structure can exist in harmony.


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