Culture of Excellence is rooted in the Organizational Culture


The Culture of Excellence is discussed in a different context with different expressions. While all experiences and knowledge are valid, the implementation is often complicated, and even if one succeeds, it is not sustainable. Most understand that this is a huge change management process. The first step in bring any change would be to look for the prerequisite for any change management.  

The missing link is rooted in Organizational Culture. Organizational Culture is a widely discussed topic. Most readers of this blog would be knowledgeable and experienced.  The best explanation for Culture is Schien as

“A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to these problems” (Schein, 1992).

Exploring the underlined words from a realistic perspective brings an exciting and probably real scenario:

  1.  “pattern” implies a design, a way, but it also means that it evolves. This makes the culture dynamic. An acceptable pattern today may not be so tomorrow.
  2. shared” thoughts have always been a dream in the management world. Where does one stop in sharing? Is good enough if one communicates to all? An action of sending an email, using posters are shortlived. Often the sharing begins and ends with a display of values or other artifacts of the culture of an organization.
  3. “learned” implies that the culture evolves as one learns from the experience. Learning from experience needs to move from Primary Learning to Secondary Learning. Primary Learning can only provide us the immediate feel and are often reactive. Secondary Learning enables the absorption of experience that has the potential to change our way of life or subsequent response to the experience.
  4. “external adaption and internal integration” of the Learning would ensure the conversion of what we learn into practice. Adaptation to the external stimulus has been the essence of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. In the organizational context, experiential Learning needs to be adapted to match the changing business environment. The same experience would require to be integrated with organizational practices. A change in practice with integrating with a larger system in an organization can lead to suboptimal conditions and hence unstable culture. It is necessary to distinguish between change and instability. Change is desirable but not instability. The practice must lead to benefits to internal stakeholders like employees and external stakeholders like customers, vendors.
  5. The experience and Learning must be “valid” enough to facilitate reinforcement of the communication of cultural aspects.
  6.  The culture symbols and practices that represent culture needs to be “taught” to the new employees. This is necessary as every individual comes with his /her own cultural “baggage,” which may not be in sync with organizational culture. It is the responsibility of every individual to showcase the culture and enable absorption of the new culture (at times, it could be a cultural shock) by the newcomer.
  7. The newcomers would need to perceive, think, and feel the culture of excellence. This means the members of the organization would need to walk the talk.

Culture is understood by the Artifacts that represents it. The Culture of Excellence would possibly be indicated by various measures or systems.

For example, the quantum of Innovation may indicate the excellence culture.

Values would relate to the attitudes and opinions regarding reality and how Innovation (in the above example) should be handled. This has to be built into the strategies, goals, and philosophies of the organization. 

In the case of Innovation, one would need to see if Innovation has become part of whatever the organization values. Innovation should be part of the strategy, organizational goal, and the organization must believe in it.

Basic Assumptions about the organization, its people, and the business environment must be conducive to the building culture.

For example, Tolerance to failure would be critical characteristics to fuel the innovative mindset. The reinforcing assumption becomes key to the value system and then becomes an integral part of the culture.

The missing link is rooted in Organizational Culture. Organizational Culture is a widely discussed topic. Most readers of this blog would be knowledgeable and experienced.  The best explanation for Culture is Schien as

“A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to these problems” (Schein, 1992).

Exploring the underlined words from a realistic perspective brings an exciting and probably real scenario:

  1.  “pattern” implies a design, a way, but it also means that it evolves. This makes the culture dynamic. An acceptable pattern today may not be so tomorrow.
  2. shared” thoughts have always been a dream in the management world. Where does one stop in sharing? Is good enough if one communicates to all? An action of sending an email, using posters are shortlived. Often the sharing begins and ends with a display of values or other artifacts of the culture of an organization.
  3. “learned” implies that the culture evolves as one learns from the experience. Learning from experience needs to move from Primary Learning to Secondary Learning. Primary Learning can only provide us the immediate feel and are often reactive. Secondary Learning enables the absorption of experience that has the potential to change our way of life or subsequent response to the experience.
  4. “external adaption and internal integration” of the Learning would ensure the conversion of what we learn into practice. Adaptation to the external stimulus has been the essence of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. In the organizational context, experiential Learning needs to be adapted to match the changing business environment. The same experience would require to be integrated with organizational practices. A change in practice with integrating with a larger system in an organization can lead to suboptimal conditions and hence unstable culture. It is necessary to distinguish between change and instability. Change is desirable but not instability. The practice must lead to benefits to internal stakeholders like employees and external stakeholders like customers, vendors.
  5. The experience and Learning must be “valid” enough to facilitate reinforcement of the communication of cultural aspects.
  6.  The culture symbols and practices that represent culture needs to be “taught” to the new employees. This is necessary as every individual comes with his /her own cultural “baggage,” which may not be in sync with organizational culture. It is the responsibility of every individual to showcase the culture and enable absorption of the new culture (at times, it could be a cultural shock) by the newcomer.
  7. The newcomers would need to perceive, think, and feel the culture of excellence. This means the members of the organization would need to walk the talk.

Culture is understood by the Artifacts that represents it. The Culture of Excellence would possibly be indicated by various measures or systems.

For example, the quantum of Innovation may indicate the excellence culture.

Values would relate to the attitudes and opinions regarding reality and how Innovation (in the above example) should be handled. This has to be built into the strategies, goals, and philosophies of the organization. 

In the case of Innovation, one would need to see if Innovation has become part of whatever the organization values. Innovation should be part of the strategy, organizational goal, and the organization must believe in it.

Basic Assumptions about the organization, its people, and the business environment must be conducive to the building culture.

For example, Tolerance to failure would be critical characteristics to fuel the innovative mindset. The reinforcing assumption becomes key to the value system and then becomes an integral part of the culture.

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