The New Buzz Word: Changing “Culture”

By Doug Hummer.

I recently attended a meeting that introduced me to the Innovation Engineering Management System that is rolling out through the Manufacturing Extension Partnership centers across the USA. Innovation was defined as “something new”, an invention that can be commercialized. Engineering was defined as “a system that creates it” (it being the innovation of course). Management was defined as “people buy-in”. System was not defined per say, but we could infer the holistic view of how innovation, engineering and management work as one. All-in-all, it sounds like a great approach to revitalizing and expanding manufacturing in the USA.

However; I did take exception with one explanation offered during this introductory meeting. When asked how “people buy-in” was accomplished, the presenter offered that changing the organization’s culture would facilitate this “buy-in”. Culture – this is becoming the new buzz word in any type of organizational change. Everyone wants to create a new culture to implement their new strategy. They make it sound so simple, just have leadership make a declaration and *poof*, the culture changes.

Culture is complex and embedded in our organizations. Culture becomes a reflection of the way life is lived in an organization and includes the social patterns, norms, beliefs, organizational structure, and the way things are done. Senior leaders of an organization shape and mold the culture through policy and their actions.  Even at the organizational level, culture takes time measured in years to develop and change.

I think what we want to change in order to implement a new strategy is climate. Climate is described as the way members of an organization perceive leadership’s credibility, degrees of trust, resistance to change, morale, etc. It describes the internal environment of an organization as experienced by its members, their prevailing attitudes and expectations.  By their endorsement of a new strategy, removal of barriers that hinder the deployment of a new strategy, and adding the financial and human resource support of an new strategy, an organization’s leadership can affect change in their climate in a relatively short amount of time. When these supports are sustained, new strategies have a better chance of moving from adoption to actual implementation. Perhaps, over a long period of time, this may lead to a change in culture, the piece we keep trying to put at the beginning of the process.

What do you think?

1 Comment so far

  1. Gray Rinehart

    Nice post, Doug. I like the distinction between climate and culture. A leader can do a lot to influence the climate, but the culture results from how all of us at the worker level respond to that climate on a day-to-day (or even hour-to-hour) basis.


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