Changing organizational culture

This week in my graduate class we discussed how web 2.0 tools can be integrated into the workplace, and how we can foster an environment that is welcome to change. Since I work in a regional educational institution, where making any cultural revolution where we embrace change has been compared to changing the course of an air craft carrier with paddles, I thought I would dig up some material from  a management training I went through a few years ago. I vaguely remembered some concepts that I liked and thought I would do some digging. In their book “The rights and rituals of corporate life,” Deal and Kennedy dissect the components of corporate culture into a few areas. One such component was the informal communications network that exist in every organization. The informal communication networks have a few players that are involved:

Storytellers: interpret what goes on in the organization.

Spies: keep their fingers on the pulse of the organization.

Priests: are the guardians of the culture’s values.

Whisperers: are the unseen powers behind the throne.

Cabals: are groups of two or more who join together around a common purpose.

I will concentrate on the storytellers for now. According to Deal and Kennedy, storytellers preserve institutions and their values by imparting legends of the company to new employees.  They also carry stories about the visionary heroes or the talented outlaw.  Storytellers will also reveal much about what it takes to get ahead in the organization. Thomas Watson Jr., son of IBM’s founder, often told a story about a nature lover who liked watching the wild ducks fly south in vast flocks each October.  Out of charity, he took to putting feed for them in a nearby pond.  After a while, some of the ducks no longer bothered to fly south; they wintered in the pond on what he fed them.  In time they flew less and less.  After three or four years, they grew so fat and lazy that they found it difficult to fly at all.  Watson had discovered this story in the writings of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.  And he always ended it with the point that you can make wild ducks tame, but you can never make tame ducks wild again.  Watson would further add that “the duck that is tamed will never go anywhere anymore. We are convinced that business needs its wild ducks.  And in IBM we try not to tame them.”

After reading through the material I thought this was all a waste of time, but I gave it a try anyway. To my amazement I was able to identify people that fit into the above roles at my agency. And their influence was noted and used in making some headway into changing how we do things. This seems like a simple thing to do in any organization, especially in education where we do need to stay wild in order to be innovative and receptive to all the new things that come our way every day. The nay sayers will always be quick to say that what works in business does not work in public service, but is that really true? I think not.

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One Response to Changing organizational culture

  1. Darin Stewart says:

    This is excellent. I am going to steal (with proper attribution of course) the storytellers/spies/priests/whisperers/cabals material to supplement the social technographics material.

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