Want Measurable Change? Think Operating Culture

By: Gregory A. Janicik

Many senior leaders consider ways they can define and transform their organization’s culture. However, there are so many definitions of and frameworks for organizational culture that it can be difficult to align on the best way to truly effect measurable change. For example, some define organizational culture as the shared values and beliefs that contribute to a company's norms for what behavior is acceptable; others describe it as the customs and written and unwritten rules that have developed over time. These broad, conceptual definitions, along with many others, make selecting the appropriate change levers a challenge. One approach to creating culture change that stimulates higher productivity and performance is to focus on the operating culture.

A company’s operating culture is broadly defined as “the way we do things around here.”  When approaching change from the perspective of the operating culture (instead of culture), leaders can easily identify levers that affect how work gets done. For example, are employees encouraged to develop or share ideas for improving how work gets done? Are they recognized and rewarded for these ideas? Are there mechanisms in place that support effective planning? Is there a process within the organization for modifying initiatives as priorities shift? Thinking about how work gets done can trigger good questions, such as: How innovative are we? How proactive are we? How flexible are we? These types of questions can promote decisions and actions by leaders that accelerate real change inside an organization.

The next time someone asks you if it is possible to change organizational culture, respond by saying that that is the wrong question. The real question is: can leaders identify the strengths and gaps in their organization’s operating culture? If so, they can begin to leverage what is working and address what is not in order to drive change and alter operating behaviors and processes across the organization. Impacting how work gets done can help shift the operating culture and ultimately change the outcomes that matter

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