Tag Archives: culture

So what do leaders actually “do”? (Part 2)

Organisational culture.  Everybody talks about it now.  Here is a fresh piece where a private equity player (who has made fortunes consolidating the Pharma industry) extols its virtues in a Harvard Business Review blog.

The Comments section in this blog entry makes one ponder the depth and veracity of the author’s expansive claims…a Google search indicates that this “culture” champion may have skimpy clothing…

Edgar Schein is one of the more recognised “org culture” gurus.  What is his tight summary of this vast topic?

ed schein

“Culture is the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organization, that operate unconsciously and define in a basic ‘taken for granted’ fashion an organization’s view of its self and its environment.”

– Edgar Schein

…its “taken-for-granted” view of itself and its environment.  I guess that is akin to our knowledge-of-ourselves (being self-aware creatures!).

So if leaders can influence and steer this view then it would be like standing on the bridge of the USS Enterprise (beam-us-up-Scotty!).  Imagine the possibilities…

I do admit that I also deeply admire the work of Elliott Jaques.  He is arguably the first thinker/researcher/explorer to get up close and personal with “corporate culture”.  He even developed a method – social analysis (c.f. psychoanalysis, which he also studied) to plumb its depths.  He even wrote about it over 60 years ago:

The Changing Culture of a Factory: A Study of Authority and Participation in an Industrial Setting (London: Tavistock, 1951)

Elliott Jaques (1917-2003)
Elliott Jaques (1917-2003)

Jaques did not present himself as a “corporate culture” guru however.  It is said that he on occasion could alienate – in one fell swoop – large groups of people (like Org Development practitioners) by telling them their fields were “intellectually bankrupt”.  Sadly, you can see why EJ did not win readily win lots of friends and long-term supporters.

EJ’s work – variously called felt-fair-pay, SST (for stratified systems theory), levels-of-work, Requisite Organisation – has not in my opinion got the love it deserves.

If you want a taster, here is an HBR piece he wrote called “In Praise of Hierarchy” (what happened to honey versus vinegar, EJ…?).  His insistence that hierarchy is a legitimate and vital element of effective organisations also garnered him few fans from the “new-age” management ranks.

And that is why I’ll use the work of his colleagues (“More honey, anyone?”) to make his important insights more palatable in the next few posts.  I’ll call on wonderful folks like Luc Hoebeke (whom EJ’s surviving inner-circle is not comfortable with) and the truly amazing Gillian Stamp (she of the Tripod of Work)…

So here’s a teaser from Part 3 by Luc, extracted from his searingly insightful “Making Work Systems Better” ebook [get it for free if you dare]:

Luc Hoebeke