Wednesday, May 29, 2013



As a person of impact, do you know how to bring about culture change? By impact I mean create understanding, strengthen relationships, and increase productivity in your sphere of influence and beyond. As to culture, in some narrow circles, it is fashionable to deny that there is any such thing, that is, that there really are no differences between human beings. This may be true ontologically, but most of us who have worked internationally know better. Culture is the “learned, shared patterns of perception and behavior” that characterize people in a society. For example, in Indonesia there is a tacit assumption that mana, more than anything else, plays the significant role in success. In contrast, my grandfather, who was the Vice-President of the Georgia Power Company, believed in personal responsibility and knew that he had worked his way up in the company after being hired as an electrical engineer in the 1930s after graduating from Georgia Technical University. There are differences in perception and behavior from people to people.

Culture change
How do you change culture? I offer that there are different approaches based on five levels of cultural depth:
  1. Observable behavior
  2. Socio-cultural institutions
  3. Values
  4. Identity
  5. Core worldview assumptions
In the early 20th century, there were assumptions in sociology supporting the notion that a change in human behavior could be brought about through operant conditioning.1 Simply change the outward behavior to change the person. More recent research has shown that cognition and affect play a much larger role in change than first recognized by behaviorists.2
Similarly, in the 20th century, there were theories of anthropology that emphasized the importance of structure and function in society as key explanations for behavior and its change.3
Current academic literature does not discount either behaviorism or structural functionalism, but builds holistically on them. Social research demonstrates that perception is key. Although unseen, and often outside the awareness of self, perceptions of values, identity, and assumptions about reality play the central role in how we behave. From values, identity, and worldview, socio-cultural institutions are organized and observable behavior is promoted. In turn, the behavior and institutions reinforce the perceptions underneath.
So, how do you change culture? I would argue that simply altering behavior is not really culture change. Correspondingly, neither is making adjustments at the institutional level. In my view, culture change is possible only by impacting people’s values, identity, and core worldview assumptions. How is this done? Empirical evidence shows that it is accomplished by changing the story. Consider the following possible methodologies and outcomes based on the levels of culture.
LevelMethodology of changeOutcome
Observable behaviorOperant conditioning, punishment, and reward Temporary conformity
Socio-cultural institutionsStructuralFramework to promote and prohibit behavior 
Values, identity, and core worldview assumptionsStoryTrue culture change - start with worldview

True culture change is only attainable when a rival story competes with the story-based worldview grid already in place. The key is not the technique (active listening, motivational interviewing, ontological coaching, collaborative negotiation, interest-based conflict resolution, third-party mediation, or more). The key question is, “To what degree are values, identity, adura, and Edward Thorndike
2Jerome Brunner, Howard Gardner, Jean Piaget, and Robert Sternberg
3Herbert Spencer, Bronislaw Malinowski, and A.R. Radcliffe-Brown 

 Share3nd core worldview assumptions in focus?”
1B.F. Skinner, Albert Ban

No comments:

Post a Comment