Life in Organizations LO9827

Rol Fessenden (76234.3636@CompuServe.COM)
08 Sep 96 10:53:11 EDT

Replying to LO9778 --

To my note,

> On a closely related note, I have been promoting a distinction between
> 'system' and 'culture' which my dictionary describe respectively as the
> organized way to accomplish a task, and the beliefs, perceptions, mental
> models, and so forth of an organization. In short-hand we can very
> accurately refer to these as 'task' and 'tool set'.
> System Culture
> an organized, repeatable way to Beliefs, perceptions, mental models, etc
> accomplish a task of an organization
> Task Tool set
> You may believe that these are inextricably intertwined, and I cannot say
> they are not. However, I submit as a meme the notion that separating them
> in our minds creates a valuable distinction that allows us to focus our
> efforts for the greatest impact. Therefore, when you say "The 'system'
> part [that whole unwritten mix of mental models/ language/ 'rules' etc]
> then tends to blindly seek its own replication,..." you are, in my
> terminology, referring not to the system, but to the culture. To me the
> distinction is important because changing the culture requires different
> methods and different tools than changing the system (system in my
> narrower sense). What do you think?

Ben asked for more clarity. "I can see the possible benefits of making
the distinction Rol has suggested. However, Rol, I think I would benefit
if you could define the type of relationship he sees between culture and
the system?"

Thanks, Ben I was afraid no one would ask.

The culture is like the sea in which the systems swim. It is the
environment. It is the air, the earth, the nutrients -- the attitudes, the
mental models, the negativity, the optimism, it is the degree of control
required by the organization, it is the openness to change, it is the
awareness of memes and willingness to do something about them, it is the
willingness to clearly define what should be and then go after it, it is
the positive energy that is available to invest in change. It is a lot
more about the attitudes that teams and people have within themselves,
than it is about how exactly the system accomplishes its task.

That is what makes culture so important and powerful. Changing the
culture is hard, but changing a system without changing the culture may be
impossible. Furthermore, changing the culture is a huge leverage
opportunity because the new culture will affect ALL systems. The leverage
of a changed culture goes beyond one system to affect all the systems in
an organization.

To give a small example that relates to another conversation. At LL Bean
a few years ago it was the culture that the IS function was a separate
enabling function whose job it was to create and maintain systems. They
were independent of operating constraints and needs, and as such they were
not effective in meeting the day-to-day operational needs of the system
users. Now the culture is different. Everyone understands that the IS
function is responsible for systems functioning day-to-day to meet
operational needs. Organizational changes have occurred to make it
clearer, physical seating has changed to incoproprate IS into the line
environment, IS sits in on operating meetings, and operating people sit in
on project planning and prioritizing meetings within IS. The mental model
has changed completely, and as a consequence, systems function better more
effectively more of the time. Everyone has a revised viewpoint about
their responsibility. The pre-existing meme about the role of IS has been
destroyed and replaced by a new meme that most everyone likes better.

People made that change in the culture. This is not a small point. The
meme was unlikely to change without input from people. Someone saw in
their minds a better way, and they began the process of creating a
competing meme for the pre-existing one. As more and more people bought
the new meme, it began to affect the inds of people who were hired. It
began to affect the expectations of operating and IS people alike.
Eventually it was formalized in physical and organizational and job
description changes.


Rol Fessenden LL Bean, Inc.

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