Change Leadership Institute

Lead Change & Love People Newsletter - March 2024

Published 2 months ago • 4 min read

Quote Of The Month

“Stay diagnostic even as you take action.” - Heifetz

What You Need To Know About Leading Change

People are always talking about organizational culture, but what is it exactly and how do we assess it?

There are a lot of different ways of defining culture, which makes it hard to define culture clearly.

What you need to know though is that the most important element of culture is made up of
SHARED values, beliefs, and behaviors.

If you understand that culture is a shared product of shared learning, then to understand a given group’s culture, you will need to know what kind of learning has taken place, over what period, and under what kinds of leadership. You can begin to figure out the shared values, beliefs, and behaviors by asking questions like:

How does our organization define success? How does our organization learn from failures or crises?

Also, your organizational culture will be influenced by your racial, and ethnic background and the cultures in which you were raised / most influenced by. Why? Because the leaders of an organization have primary influence on culture creation.

This brings us to an important point about the strength of culture. The strength of an organization's culture will depend on several factors:

  • The strength of the conviction of the original founders and subsequent leaders.
  • The degree of stability of the membership and leadership over a period of time.
  • The number and intensity of learning crises that the group has survived.

How true are these statements based on your own experiences?

Let’s talk about the structure of culture

Culture in general can be analyzed at several different levels – these levels are the degree to which the cultural phenomenon is visible to you as a participant or observer. So, these levels can range from the very tangible, overt manifestations that you can see and feel to the deeply embedded, unconscious, basic assumptions that we are defining as the essence of culture – the organization’s DNA. So in other words, this is the stuff you can’t really see. And that’s what makes culture hard to pinpoint and eventually change.

Culture guru Edgar Schein tells us there are three levels of analysis:

  1. Artifacts: Artifacts include the things you can easily see inside your organization, such as the architecture of your environment, your logo, the social events that exist throughout the year, the clothes your team likes to wear, etc.
  2. Espoused Beliefs and Values: These are the principles and ideals of an organization – like your mission statement. This is what you think and say you believe. Espoused beliefs can serve as the normative or moral function that guides members of a group around things such as how to deal with certain key situations or how new hires are taught to behave.
  3. Basic Underlying Assumptions: This is what you ACTUALLY believe. If basic assumptions come to be strongly held in a group, members will find behavior based on any other premise inconceivable. Why? Because our assumptions develop into our mental map. Once our mental maps are formed, we will then be most comfortable with others who share the same set of assumptions and very uncomfortable and vulnerable in situations where different assumptions operate because either we will not understand what is going on, or worse, we will misperceive and misinterpret the actions of others.

So now that you have this insight on organizational culture, how can you practically assess it?

I tell you how below!


What You Can Do Now To Change The Way You Lead Change

A lot of times, (and in my experience, more often than not), an organization’s espoused values reflect the DESIRED behavior but are not reflected in ACTUAL behavior.

This disconnect often frustrates members in the organization, especially if integrity is a value to people. So, in analyzing espoused beliefs and values, you must discriminate carefully among those that are congruent with the underlying assumptions that guide performance VERSUS those that are part of the ideology or philosophy of the organization VERSUS those that are rationalizations or only aspirations for the future.

What I’m saying here is that it’s important to discriminate between the things you actually believe VERSUS the things you say you believe and the things you do to show it.

If you’re looking to truly shift your company’s culture, you have to focus on identifying the basic underlying assumptions. Why?

Because what you truly believe — not always what you say or outwardly show — is what drives your company’s culture.

Changing your company culture is not about just changing the artifacts. For example, getting everyone new laptops doesn’t necessarily mean you value generosity. Likewise, if you’re in a church setting, taking a stance that you support women in leadership doesn’t mean you actually value women in leadership.

Similarly, changing your company culture also isn’t about just changing the espoused values and beliefs. For example, saying at a team meeting, “We believe in honesty and transparency” or writing “We believe in diversity and inclusion” on your website doesn’t automatically make those things true.

Changing your company culture is about tapping into the core beliefs of each individual, understanding what their basic underlying assumptions are, and creating an environment where those can be listened to and productively challenged over months or years!

You can start to identify and challenge someone's assumptions by doing the following:

  • Question This may be as simple as stating, “What's another perspective on this topic that makes you feel uncomfortable?”
  • Explore The next level is to explore in detail, to determine the origin of the idea or perspective. Ask, “What is this uncomfortable feeling based on, and what are the consequences of accepting it?”

My 3 Tips To Lead Change And Love People

  1. I created a FREE Change Readiness Assessment to thank you for subscribing to my newsletter! You can access it HERE.
  2. What I'm reading: Harvard Business Review's best articles on Strategy. I'll share what I'm learning in a future newsletter, specifically around the topic of Vision and how we need leaders to have a better strategy around it!
  3. Buy my book Leading Change While Loving People HERE.

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