Thursday, October 20, 2011

HBR: Why You Should Question Your Culture - Three Simple Questions

Ron Ashkenas, a managing partner of Schaffer Consulting and a co-author of The GE Work-Out has an article in the HBR Blog Network on Why you should question your culture. Excerpts below:

I often hear executives reassure me that projects will get done because "we have an execution culture," or that customers will be well taken care of because "we have a culture where the customer comes first." At the same time, culture is also one of the great rationalizations for managerial shortcomings. Many times I've heard that a project was delayed because "we don't make quick decisions around here," which is the managerial equivalent of "the dog ate my homework."
But the problem with all of these statements — both positive and negative — is that they don't really mean anything. Worse yet, they can't be translated into any kind of action. At best these declarations are vague generalizations; and at worst they are misleading stereotypes.
Any management team can assess its culture by asking these kinds of simple questions across a range of organizational behaviors. For example: To what extent do we reward individual vs. team results? To what extent do we share information broadly or parcel it out narrowly? To what extent do we encourage or discourage risk?

Asking these kinds of questions can smoke out the differences in expectations that people have about the organization. Not everyone experiences culture the same way, so a structured way to discuss those differences can increase alignment and the ability to take collective action. In practical terms, culture is not an intangible cloud that hangs over a company, but an outcome of the way people behave on multiple dimensions. Better understanding of these behavioral patterns — and how each person experiences them — makes it possible to decide whether to continue them or not.

Read in full here.

The three simple questions sound like great questions to ask if you're inside the State Department in general, and the U.S. Foreign Service in particular. Great questions, not sure you'll find your answers.


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