The organizational culture can be defined as the stablished and accepted system of behaviours, values, beliefs and assumptions that are thoroughly shared by the organization. That is, the line (often implicit or assumed) between what is okay and what is not in our company.
The culture of an organization is not defined or created by someone, but it is the product of the evolution of the organization over the years, and it has been molded by the different successful achievements or failures. Although often the innermost beliefs come from those that the founders had initially.
The greater challenges and transformations that organizations face nowadays involve changing, to a greater or lesser extent, the organizational culture. This is always a complex and long task – we are talking about years. We can observe some examples of cultural changes shared by several organizations currently: digital transformation or agile transformation. Those are examples where the most relevant thing is not the use of new technologies, techniques or methods, but the internal change whereby each person has to go through, in all levels of organization, and the collective change of the way of thinking that it involves.
Just like an iceberg, the organizational culture consists of three levels: the superficial level, where all the devices and visible products are (offices’ disposition, workplace, decoration, colors, …), beneath this visible level there are rules and values (set of procedures, regulation, explicit and formal policies), and in a deeper level, the basic assumptions or beliefs that people in the organization have. Every level must be nourished by the lower one. If a company does not have a good alignment between the visible symbols and the basic assumptions it will probably act like someone who says something but does not act accordingly: it will lose credibility and trust. In the case of a company, it means both clients and employees.
A cultural change involves, therefore, to reach the deepest level: it is not only an esthetic change, but it has to transform the personal and collective way of thinking of the people in the organization.
To illustrate with a simple example what I want to explain, I recall a conversation I had during a course with a student about realizing an agile transformation in his company. In particular, we were talking about the importance of the transparency as a way to encourage the collaboration between client and supplier. In his case, client and supplier of different companies for software development projects. The conversation was, more or less, the following:
- But we cannot be transparent with everything
- Why do you say that?
- Because there are some things that the client does not need to see
- For example?
- I don’t know, the way we work, sometimes we are also in other projects or sometimes we are not complete experts in some specific technology…
- And, knowing that, how would affect the client?
- I don’t know, but there are some things that might alarm them because they don’t know the difficulties of the development…
Then I suggested the example of a restaurant:
- You as a restaurant client, would you like to see the kitchen? To see how they cook?
- Well, it depends because there are some places where it is better not to see it…
- I’m not talking about any restaurant, but those where they show it, where the kitchen is open so you can see them working. You might even accept to pay more for the food in those kind of restaurants, is that correct?
- Of course, it is an added value…
- Then the problem is not showing the kitchen, but keeping clean the kitchen.
Effectively, transparency is an appreciated value and, at the same time, to be transparent is not enough to say it or to wanting to be it. It requires some internal habits of “cleanliness” that must be previously acquired, and that is the important change. The cultural change that involves thinking that anything that we do should be ready to share it with anyone in our organization or the client’s organization. The cultural change makes us less afraid to share our daily mistakes because or job is complex and sharing them will generate empathy and will give a feeling of teamwork to the client, and at the same time will position us as better professionals.