Strategy + Business (Spring 2011) has an interview with Edgar Schein, the MIT sage of organizational culture.
In it, he describes why it is so hard to change this.
In my experience, organizational culture is key to success.
Why do we want to change organizational culture to begin with?
Sometimes it becomes dysfunctional and can get in the way of performance.
Sometimes, leaders think they can simply change a culture, but Schein disagrees. He says that you cannot simply introduce a new culture and tell people to follow it–“that will never work.”
“Instead you have to…solve business problems by introducing new behaviors.”
However, you cannot solve problems or even raise concerns where “in most organizations the norms are to punish it.”
Schein states that “the people with the most authority…must make the others feel safe”—to speak up, contribute, and even make mistakes.
Schein goes on to call for people “to work with one another as equal partners“–breaking down the traditional organizational boundaries–so that we stop telling people, so to speak, that “you’re in my lane” or “that’s above your pay grade.”
He goes a step further, stating that the healthiest work cultures are interdependent, meaning that people actively try to help one another solve problems.
What an enormously powerful idea, that everyone has something valuable to contribute. Every opinion contributes to the dialogue–and all employees are worthwhile.
That is my definition of a healthy culture, for the organization and its people.