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Mapping an organisation’s management culture – the key to successful change

Summary: There is an underlying tension between the individual and the organisation which affects every aspect of the way that organisation works, its management culture and its capability to introduce – and take advantage of – change. The nature of this tension needs to be understood, brought out and dealt with, if we want to be successful in bringing change into an organisation.

Although the primary focus for most managers involved in delivering change and transformation is on the project or programme, in practice how well they plan and implement it may not be what dictates how successful the project turns out to be in delivering the desired benefits. Often it rests as much on the capability of the organisation to cope with change and take advantage of new systems, particularly where these cut across its traditional structural and cultural boundaries.

One of the most important secrets of success to delivering a transformation project is paying attention to the way that people interact with the organisation – the management culture of the organisation. This paper will describe the model that has been developed by the Imaginist Company to bring out the fundamental principles underpinning any management culture and understand the dynamics of the interaction between the individual and the organisation. It will then describe some of the ways to use this model to help you shift the dominant management culture and implement change.

Any two organisations working in the same field and delivering similar goods or services to the same customers will have their own way of doing things, their own unique culture, which, if ignored, will undermine any attempt to implement change and modernisation.

The reason? Different groups of managers and staff develop different approaches, different ways of thinking, different values – a different management culture. The stronger this culture, the more difficult it will be to effect change.

Underlying this cultural landscape are two potentially conflicting forces:

  • the individual and his/her needs and aspirations
  • the organisation and how it operates.

A long while back, a management consultant named Warren Kinston created a model to describe the evolution of management cultures, from dysfunctional to highly effective and identified the tension between the individual and the organisation as a fundamental factor. He noted that the effectiveness of an organisation depended on the extent to which it was able to bring these forces into alignment.

(This tension between the individual and the organisation is inherent in the TQM continuous improvement model and many of the change management models in use over the years, but none of them have brought it out as a fundamental underlying principle, which it is.)

This model has been adapted to enable us to map the management culture of an organisation.

The Management Culture model provides a framework for us to identify the dominant management style and indicate how well the organisation will cope with change.

The model is based on an evolutionary spiral, with each style building on the previous styles, as described below. As you read through the descriptions, consider which description or descriptions most accurately describes your organisation (or the part of the organisation where you may be implementing a change project).

1.  Pragmatic/ Anarchic  – In your organisation, it’s the results that count. Management is arms-length and rewards success, so individual members of the team are left to do more or less what they like, as long as they achieve results. There are some laid-down procedures, but people only follow them or take up a new initiative if they see benefits for themselves in doing so.

2.  Structuralist  – Rules and procedures govern how your organisation works. This may have allowed the organisation to become over-bureaucratic, with ‘silo working’ hindering the sharing of ideas and knowledge across the organisation – sometimes this even extends to Board level. Change is slow and decisions are often passed down, with formal but inadequate consultation.

3.  Dialectic – The culture in your organisation puts value on sharing knowledge, as opposed to having (and protecting) knowledge. Managers and staff are encouraged to network and exchange ideas and information and, as a result, silo working is not a significant barrier to change, which is undertaken consultatively.

4. Aligned –  As a result of strong leadership and a good level of dialogue between people, the values and aspirations of the staff in your organisation are in line with its policies and strategic direction. People feel valued and understand how they fit into the scheme of things, so are more motivated to accept change that will benefit the organisation, even if it doesn’t reduce their workload.

5.  Pragmatic/ Aligned  – Managers in your organisation trust their staff to act in the best interests of the organisation, so decisions are made close to the customer, quickly and effectively.

6.  Empiricist   – Information about the ‘real world’ is important to your organisation and flows across departments as well as up and down the management hierarchy. Because it does not suffer delays or distortion from passing through departmental silos, the information is timely and accurate, which means that management decisions are well-informed and effective.

7.  Imaginist  – Because your organisation is working well, senior managers are not focused on short-term fire-fighting and intervention, allowing them the time to concentrate on longer-term planning and more important issues. They are operating with timely and accurate information, which means they can make intuitive, high quality and far-reaching decisions – and that means the organisation is able to cope well with change.

8.  Systemist   – Your CEO makes him/herself visible and available, and is vocal in championing changes and issues that are critical to the organisation’s success, but his/her leadership style is to steer from behind and build longer-term change, rather than intervening in operational issues. This works because the organisation has a strong and effective Board and an aligned and empowered workforce.

9.  Pragmatic/Empowered   – You are working in an organisation that has set itself the challenge of being the best in class. You are fully empowered to plan and manage your own workload, within a supportive management culture.  This includes working collaboratively in teams and leading and participating in change projects, to continually improve the effectiveness of the organisation to meet its customers’ needs.

Did you recognise your organisation?

If you want to find out how to use this model and why it works, get in touch:


April 14, 2008 - Posted by | business change management, project and programme management | , , , , , , ,

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