!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: The Reality of Cultural Change in an Organization

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Reality of Cultural Change in an Organization

John Shook, an industrial anthropologist who worked with the NUMMI joint venture of Toyota and General Motors from its inception, has written an illuminating article about cultural change at the NUMMI factory in Fremont CA. The article appears in the Winter 2010 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review.

Shook's model of cultural change is a close cousin of that put forward by Edgar Schein, an emeritus Sloan professor who specializes in organizational development. The Shook and Schein models are diagrammed in the graphic below.

(click to enlarge)
(MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter 2010)

The arrows in the graphic represent old and new thinking concerning the process of cultural change.

The traditional view, represented by the upward arrows, is that you start by getting people to change their thinking about how it's proper to behave, and they then proceed to make the desired behavioral changes. The Schein/Shook view, represented by the downward arrows, is that you start by getting people to change their behavior and, in due course they adjust their thinking about what sort of behavior is appropriate.
  • In Schein's model, the initial step is to change "cultural artifacts" — "the observable data of an organization, which include what people do and how they behave." This leads to a change in people's values and attitudes and, ultimately, to a change in the "pattern of shared basic assumptions ... 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 [solving] problems."1

  • In Shook's very similar model, managers initiate the process of cultural change by defining the actions and behaviors they desire, providing training, and designing the work processes that are necessary to reinforce those behaviors. This leads to a change in people's values and attitudes and, ultimately, to a change in organizational culture.
Shook describes how NUMMI's adoption of Toyota's system of requiring workers to immediately address any problem, even if that means stopping the production line until the problem is fixed, quickly produced a new culture of employee concern for quality. Previously, the factory had been plagued by worker-management friction and high absenteeism, and quality had been notoriously poor.

In Shook's view,
What changed the culture at NUMMI wasn’t an abstract notion of “employee involvement” or “a learning organization” or even “culture” at all. What changed the culture was giving employees the means by which they could successfully do their jobs. It was communicating clearly to employees what their jobs were and providing the training and tools to enable them to perform those jobs successfully.
The key take-away Shook offers at the conclusion of his article is that the "tools of the Toyota Production System are all designed around making it easy to learn from mistakes. Making it easy to learn from mistakes means changing our attitude toward them," i.e. skipping the finger-pointing and instead nurturing a culture of alert problem solving by empowered amployees.

1 Edgar Schein, "Organizational Culture and Leadership" (1993) in Classics of Organization Theory, Jay Shafritz and J. Steven Ott (eds.) (Harcourt College Publishers, 2001), pp. 373-374.


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