Finding Your Organization’s Magic Pixie Dust

by

It is often said that organizational culture is like a fog — it is all around us; it impacts our ability to see, to move quickly, and to deliver; but we cannot quite put our finger on it. Indeed, some organizations see their culture as a byproduct of operations, occurring naturally or having an unexplainable magical quality to it — it is their unique “pixie dust.” But as a powerful enabler — or sometimes an obstacle — to organizational operations and transformations, it is important to de-mystify our own organizational culture: what is our distinct culture type and how exactly is it impacting our business? How do we find and define our magical pixie dust?

Culture can be a boon or a bust; it can be that secret ingredient that motivates your employees to do their best work, and/or it can be the underlying cause of organizational reluctance to change and evolve. Thought Ensemble’s CEO Lisa Jasper recently explored this concept in a blog post on Why Purpose-Driven Organizations May Struggle With Change.

You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure

Despite broad agreement around this statement, few companies actually assess, or measure, their culture to understand where it is now, how it benefits them, how it may work against them at times, or how they may want to adjust it. As our clients navigate complex organizational transformations, Thought Ensemble works with them to view their culture as an integral part of the program — we would go as far as saying that no transformation project can be successful in the long-run if the group does not assess and manage the culture shift required to make the transformation stick.

To level-set, and simplify things, culture can be defined as the collection of values, beliefs, behaviors, practices, symbols, legends, heroes, and stories that define your organization. An easy way to start figuring this out is by asking the question, “How do things get done around here?” This should give you a high-level idea of the kind of things that are prioritized and de-prioritized, the way people communicate or collaborate, and the values that ultimately drive decisions.

Culture Assessment Tools to Consider

Cultural assessments are great tools to help distinguish your culture type, and one of my favorite things to do is to gamify serious things as a way of getting started on a daunting task — weird, right? So, I was very pleased to come across a few culture assessment games, including Culture Crush and the Mascot Game, which involve working as a group to ask the questions, “On what organizations do we have a culture crush?” And, “What celebrity would be our organization’s culture mascot?”

As you move beyond the initial ideation phase of your culture assessment, it may be worth looking into more comprehensive assessment tools based on the foundational work by Quinn and Cameron: the Competing Values Framework. One valuable assessment tool is the Organizational Culture Inventory (OCI ®), which helps you plot your culture on two scales: people versus task orientation and satisfaction versus security needs. Determining where your organization falls on these scales may help you understand how to best approach a strategy for change.

Another classic tool based on the Competing Values Framework is the Denison Organizational Culture Model. Working along two axes, the model establishes whether your organization is more externally or internally focused: are you prioritizing innovation and sales growth or quality and employee satisfaction? It then asks whether there is a tendency to be flexible or stable: are you more focused on creativity and customer satisfaction or profit and ROI? Looking at twelve criteria on these scales, the model determines which of four “culture profiles” your organizations fits into: Mission Culture, Adaptability Culture, Involvement Culture, or Consistency Culture.

Start the Journey With Strategic Intent

Before selecting an assessment tool or model, however, ask yourself why you want to measure your culture and how you will use the data you uncover. If the intent is to shift, or alter, the culture in order to facilitate a change, it is important to recognize that, by their nature, cultures are pretty resistant to change. Therefore, we must identify the specific aspects that we would like to change and set expectations around desired outcomes and potential consequences. The Godfather of organizational culture studies, Edgar Schein, famously said that culture can be shaped, and not changed, and should only be addressed when one is tackling a problem or making a change to strategy, structure, or process.

Thought Ensemble’s approach to culture change is to primarily assess, or diagnose, the current culture by looking at behaviors that are reinforced and by defining what an ideal future culture might look like; this may even start from an examination of individual behaviors. Typically, our next step is to interpret our findings by asking questions like, “What would it mean to change the current culture?” And, “Where are we seeing examples of our desired culture today?” And finally, by developing plans and critical initiatives to implement your long-term strategy to transform.

To sum up, culture is an integral part of any business transformation. There are several effective ways to assess and measure your culture, and these should be underpinned by your ultimate expectations from the data. In other words, don’t just conduct an assessment, have an idea of what questions you want to answer with the data you’ll uncover. Culture change is not quick or easy, but the benefits of self-awareness and strategic intent for your organization’s culture are plentiful. Finally, although culture may seem like an indistinct organization-level phenomenon, culture change often starts from the individual; we can rise above the fog of culture by observing and feeling our way out, step by step.

READ MORE

Shifting Perspectives: 3 Learnings From a 3-Day Training

Shifting Perspectives: 3 Learnings From a 3-Day Training

About a week ago, I completed the second live (virtual) training in the process of becoming a Certified Professional Coach through iPEC. Once again, my mind was blown! It reinforced for me that virtual workshops can, and do, work, and, in a lot of ways, I prefer them...

read more
Finding My Work-Life Balance

Finding My Work-Life Balance

In my previous post, I told the story of how I got back into consulting after becoming a mom. All of the diverse experiences I had during that journey have helped me to find my work-life balance by… Defining Boundaries “Go home,” my first boss said 12 years back —...

read more
How I Got Back to Work After Being a Full-Time Mom

How I Got Back to Work After Being a Full-Time Mom

I Landed My Dream Job Throwback to 2014, I had completed my MBA, landed my dream job as a consultant, and was hoping that my new consulting career would exponentially ramp up my career growth for the next 5 years. This would position me to take on critical decision...

read more
Self-Awareness is Key to Belonging

Self-Awareness is Key to Belonging

In August of this year, as part of our annual company meeting, our team at Thought Ensemble participated in the foundational session of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training led by Dr. Nika White, IOM, CDE (she/her/hers). One of the most meaningful moments...

read more
We’ve Refreshed Our Brand!

We’ve Refreshed Our Brand!

Why have we refreshed our brand, you ask? Well, as we have grown and matured as an organization, we felt that our previous brand elements no longer represented us as well as they could. You see, we founded Thought Ensemble back in 2008 to help companies better compete...

read more
Thought Ensemble’s Purpose — Inspired in 2020

Thought Ensemble’s Purpose — Inspired in 2020

I recently wrote about how company purpose is being tested and inspired by all the events of 2020. This topic is very real for us at Thought Ensemble. We’ve been thinking a lot about what really matters as we’ve navigated the...

read more
How 2020 Is Testing and Inspiring Corporate Purpose

How 2020 Is Testing and Inspiring Corporate Purpose

In August 2019, the Business Roundtable rewrote their statement of corporate purpose. I followed this with significant interest being that I have never forgotten the debates about corporate purpose in business school almost two decades ago. We were taught that the...

read more
Why Purpose-Driven Organizations May Struggle With Change

Why Purpose-Driven Organizations May Struggle With Change

I love working with companies who really want to make a difference, beyond just making money for their shareholders. I mean, making money is fun and all, but it is even more rewarding to join in on a just cause. Plus, as this HBR article explains, companies who have...

read more
Awareness of Self and Belonging

Awareness of Self and Belonging

I found myself completely floored during one of my peer coaching sessions this week. A colleague said, “coaching is about increasing the client’s self-awareness. You can make better choices when you have self-awareness.” She said this casually and continued on with...

read more