Home Concepts Organizational Theory The Organizational “House of Culture”

The Organizational “House of Culture”

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By Kevin Weitz©

In my consultation with clients I have often found the subject of organizational culture to be a difficult one to discuss and describe. Leaders facing the need for culture change often struggle with the apparent vagueness and scope of culture and what is required to shift it.  However, when I first used the metaphor of a “house” for describing the scope of organizational culture “lights” (pun intended) seem to turn on, and I have successfully used this metaphor since that time. Some time ago however, one insightful person made the very good point that houses are often rigid structures which do not easily handle pressures, for example an earthquake or harsh weather. This was an important observation, because increasingly, organizations need to be much more adaptable, flexible and nimble in response to competitive threats. In debating this concept further, we landed on the reality that in recent years, construction of houses, indeed buildings in general and other structure such as bridges, are being engineered to withstand remarkably harsh environmental pressures such as large earthquakes and tornadoes. I live in the San Francisco Bay area and this is a very important issue for anyone living in this region. So, while many organizations historically were not very adaptable to external pressures, the twenty first century has ushered in an environment in which flexibility, agility and the ability to rapidly introduce new and innovative products and services and respond quickly to competitive threats is becoming a key to success and survival.

Similarly, organizational cultures must be adaptable – the house of culture must be designed to quickly and effectively respond to competitive pressures and opportunities. Shifting organizational culture is possibly the most challenging kind of change any organization can undertake. The reason is that most organizations are better at changing the “hard stuff” (work processes, structures and systems) and less effective changing people’s hearts, minds and behaviors. This is more true in cases where organizations have a long history of success, where business processes have been deeply entrenched and where culture and behaviors have become deeply ingrained over decades. In these cases historic success becomes the biggest obstacle to future success when business strategy needs to dramatically change. Often, organizations facing transformational change requiring a significant shift in culture adopt a fragmented approach – they focus on a few elements that they feel are necessary to shift culture, but don’t necessarily fully assess the link between the culture they have, their desired future culture needed to support and drive strategy execution, and all of the primary “building blocks” of their organization’s culture. This essay introduces the concept of the “House of Culture” that describes the critical elements that influence organizational culture that are either enablers or obstacles to achieve strategy-culture alignment.

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