Monday, April 13, 2009

Culture: subject to change

It's hard to change.

But not impossible.

I'm reacting late, but vehemently to the idea that "there is no such thing as culture change." I readily acknowledge the subtleties clarified in the ensuing commentary, but I feel strongly that talking about "the people" and the complementary or, in my mind, superordinate class of change that accompanies shifts toward social technology in the enterprise is tangible and important to address systematically.

I like Susan Scrupsi's comment:
The technology is liberating, but unless every vested member in the org chart is willing to be freed from industrial age convention, it’s unlikely change will come soon. These are corporate culture issues and they’re pervasive in the adoption story.

It's not lazy thinking to call it out, as Venkat suggests. Instead, it's that we 'the people' - not the catalysts of social media adoption, but the people per se - are lazy. Routined. Tied to our ways, or perhaps so much as addicted, leaning on technology, processes, and beliefs like crutches.

The more I read the commentary, the more nuances I find. I admit, genuine structural issues in different sized organizations loom large. But I propose enterprise size acts as an important moderating variable in what would be our systematic address of attitude and behavior change.

Let me be clear: individuals are capable of making drastic changes.

For enduring change, we tend to change our thinking, and then our behaviors align (in time). Sometimes, we witness behavior change preceding attitude change, usually rooted in self-justification.

Changing our ways takes courage, commitment, and the very effortful ability to take alternative views of data (or situations), and then the foresight that a given, alternate, perspective has merit.

One way to parse the snake oil out of a 'culture-enthusiast' is to think about measurement - measuring the abstract culture, and then the efficacy of any culture-change program. For those who are interested, I refer you to a classic paper in psychology (Smith & Glass, 1977), largely credited for starting the trend of comparing outcomes of different types of psychotherapy. I think there are many lessons to be learned there-- not only about the ability to change behavior (efficacy), but the ability to measure and compare outcomes.

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