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Jesse Jacoby

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Home » Change Leadership, Business Transformation, Culture, Management

The Management of Organizational Culture

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management-of-cultureIt’s been suggested that successful change can be better achieved by working with or within the culture of organizations rather than against it. On the face of it, this seems to be so obvious that there’s no need to mention it all. But as Sherlock Holmes once observed, “There’s nothing so deceptive as an obvious fact.”

Cooperation is preferable, but that’s not the real issue. It’s not simply a matter of choosing to work together. There is something much more fundamental going on, and it seems to have been overlooked. It’s simply this: Organizational culture will change no matter what. It’s irrelevant whether everyone or anyone is for or against the idea.

The reason for this is that it’s always changing. It never stops. The intent may be to work with and within what is already there, but it will change no matter what managers do or don’t do.

So the real issue is how to manage what is already occurring. If it’s handled properly, then it will gradually improve the culture and make the company more profitable. That’s because morale rises, and happy employees are more productive. However, if it’s handled improperly, then matters will only get worse; much worse.

The key to understanding all this is to recognize that there’s no middle ground. There’s no middle position. You either handle it positively, or negatively.

That leads to a grassroots question: How did the culture in your organization get to be the way it is? Think back. What was it like when you got there? How has it changed? And why has it come to where it is?

The answer in every case is that the culture in any organization is a learned behavior. It doesn’t just happen. It is always a result.

Ultimately, organizational culture is a by-product of managerial behavior. It alone dictates how everyone else does. It’s not so much what they say as what they do. People watch what they do, and then imitate it.

If the boss pilfers office supplies, then that is something everyone else feels entitled to do. If being unpleasant to subordinates gets results, then nearly everyone in a managerial role will breathe fire on those further down the food chain. And if the boss believes that you have only have to look out for number one, then you can forget teamwork. It ain’t going to happen.

Conversely, if the boss epitomizes integrity, then those under him will toe the line. If and if he or she rewards teamwork and willingly gives credit where credit is due, then people will work together. And if courtesy is considered an essential attribute instead of a necessary evil, then coming to work will be like a breath of fresh air. You’ll be hard pressed to find more positive cultural change than that.

It’s a mistake to assume that an organization’s culture will change for good or bad, without the people who constitute it. You can’t leave them out of the equation.

To think of culture as a separate entity is to imagine that you can effect change through a dispassionate third party. It sounds easy. No wonder companies are attracted to it. They see, to think that by pretending it doesn’t matter, they don’t have to deal with people. They imagine that corporate utopia can be reached without employees.

Working with people will always be more effective than working against them simply because you won’t have to deal with determined resistance. You’ll all be pulling in the same direction.

If that happened, then all of your efforts could be applied to a shared end.

How can you effect that?

There’s only one way. You must focus on how to improve the lives, both on and off of the job, of the people who work in your organization.

That would make a change.

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Jesse Jacoby
The Editor of Emergent Journal and founder of Emergent, Jesse is a recognized expert in business transformation. He and his team partner with Fortune 500 and mid-market companies to deliver successful people and change strategies. Jesse is the creator of the Accelerating Change & Transformation (ACT) model and developer of Change Accelerator and Savvy Transition. Contact Jesse at 303-883-5941 or

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