To change behaviors, you must influence basic underlying assumptions

To affect organizational culture change, you must first understand the nature of culture. Yet, how do you understand something that can’t be touched, or held, or felt, but is something that ‘just is’? Your organization’s culture affects how your people behave. The reason to change culture is to change behaviors. It provides the purpose behind what people do and how people do it.

The Edgar Schein organizational culture model

Edgar Schein described organizational culture as having three levels:

  • Artifacts: the things you can touch and see and smell – staff canteens, team meetings, sales competitions.

  • Espoused values and beliefs: what you think you believe and what you say you believe – an organization’s mission statement, its employee handbook, its organizational values.

  • Basic underlying assumptions: what you actually believe – this is what drives your behavior. It is what drives organizational culture.

Often, basic underlying assumptions are not aligned with artifacts and espoused values and beliefs. You throw a lavish end-of-year party, to congratulate your team on its performance. No expense spared, because you value your employees.

The following workday, your employees sit at their desks in front of a CRM system that requires them to input the same data in three different places. The office is overheating because the air conditioning doesn’t work. You say your team deserves the best, but it only holds true for one night of the year. What you really believe is they can thrive on state-of-the-art systems. Why go to the expense of upgrading to state-of-the-art?

To change organizational culture, influence basic underlying assumptions

You cannot change someone’s basic underlying assumptions, but you can influence them. It is this influence that leads to behavioral change. To exert this influence, you must create an environment which communicates the basic underlying assumptions you desire your people to have.

There are three elements to consider when creating an environment that influences basic underlying assumptions:

1. Exampling

Leaders and managers must be examples of the basic underlying assumptions and associated behaviors they wish their people to have. Leaders who do not practice what they preach will not be successful in the long term. If you do not accept feedback and act on criticism, your employees won’t.

Whatever basic underlying assumptions you wish your team to adopt, you must adopt yourself. If you wish your people to be honest, you must be honest

2. Consistency of behavior

Your behavior must be consistent with your basic underlying assumptions. You want your people to know that you value their professionalism, so you reward their effort with a lavish dinner dance. Yet you won’t invest in technology to allow them to do their jobs more effectively. There is a disconnect that will be noticed and felt sharply

3. Communicate to all

Finally, you must share your basic underlying assumptions with all. You must create a communication strategy that allows you to do this, using multiple channels to deliver your message.

Team meetings are not the only forum in which to foster an open and honest culture. Email communications, one-to-ones, CEO presentations, team lunches, team building activities – all of these, and more, are opportunities to example your desired basic underlying assumptions.

Developing the basic underlying assumptions that create a shift in organizational culture (required to produce the behaviors you require) does not have a scientific formula. But communicating the change by exampling the new beliefs and behaviors is crucial.

Consider your organizational culture in the context of the Edgar Schein organizational culture model. Where there is a disconnect between basic underlying assumptions, artifacts, and espoused values and beliefs, there is an opportunity to develop the organizational culture you desire. You just need to communicate it more effectively.

Contact us today, and discover how we could help your leaders and managers improve their communication through organizational change.

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