The Epistemist

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Clay Christensen on Creating a Culture

September 11th, 2010 · No Comments · leadership, support

In a recent HBR issue, Christensen made a point about organizational culture that really resonated with me:

“The theory arrays these tools along two dimensions—the extent to which members of the organization agree on what they want from their participation in the enterprise, and the extent to which they agree on what actions will produce the desired results. When there is little agreement on both axes, you have to use “power tools”—coercion, threats, punishment, and so on—to secure cooperation. Many companies start in this quadrant, which is why the founding executive team must play such an assertive role in defining what must be done and how. If employees’ ways of working together to address those tasks succeed over and over, consensus begins to form. MIT’s Edgar Schein has described this process as the mechanism by which a culture is built. Ultimately, people don’t even think about whether their way of doing things yields success. They embrace priorities and follow procedures by instinct and assumption rather than by explicit decision—which means that they’ve created a culture. Culture, in compelling but unspoken ways, dictates the proven, acceptable methods by which members of the group address recurrent problems. And culture defines the priority given to different types of problems. It can be a powerful management tool.” (Christensen, C. (2010). How Will You Measure Your Life?. Harvard Business Review, 88(7/8), 46-51.)

In the language of my current company, this balance between what people want from their participation, and the actions that will produce the desired results,  is called “shared vision”.  It has become part of the fabric of our corporate culture – and perhaps the most challenging concept to internalize for anyone new to the organization,  whether it is a single employee, or the whole team coming onboard after an acquisition.

Christensen also applies this concept to the family life, and this is where it gets even more interesting, as you get to the point where command and control stops working, and “because I said so” is no longer an valid argument (nor that it ever really was) – and by then you better have developed the shared vision with your child, this common understanding of what is right and what is wrong, and how to make good choices and avoid bad ones.


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