Improving the Organizational Culture

Changing an organization’s culture is no small feat. It takes time and persistence. But a lean organization is one that is fundamentally human-centered, one that enables people to thrive and grow. If we focus more on leadership mindset and behavior, and less on the mechanical aspects of operational excellence, it should be easier to create the culture we want.[1]

The literature on organizational culture improvement is agog with principles of improvement in culture as well as  keys to creating a high performance culture. We will leave detailed browsing of these to more interested quality professionals. I have picked up one topic for a closer view here.

What follows in extracted script of the video The Westrum Model for Improving Organizational Culture

In 1988, Ron Westrum developed a typology of organizational cultures.

  • Pathological or power-oriented organizations are characterized by large amounts of fear and threat. People often hoard information or withhold it for political reasons or distort it to make themselves look better.
  • Bureaucratic, rule-oriented organizations protect departments. Those in the department want to maintain their turf, insist on their own rules, and generally do things by the book, their book.
  • Generative or performance-oriented organizations focus on the mission. How do we accomplish our goal? Everything is subordinated to good performance, to doing what we’re supposed to do.

Westrum’s further insight was that the organizational culture predicts the way information flows through an organization. Westrum provides three characteristics of good information.

  • First, it provides answers to the questions that the receiver needs answered.
  • Second, it is timely.
  • Lastly, it is presented in such a way that it can be effectively used by the receiver.

Good information flow is critical to the safe and effective operation of high-tempo and high-consequence environments, including technology organizations.

Additional insight from Westrum was that this definition of organizational culture predicts performance outcomes.

To go into more detail regarding the typology, this table on screen helps with describing the behavior seen in three types of cultures outlined: pathological, bureaucratic, and generative.

This shows the high-performing organizations are actually continuously learning and improving and trying to get better.

Culture enables information processing through three mechanisms.

  • First, in organizations with a generative culture, people collaborate more effectively and there is a higher level of trust both across the organization and up and down the hierarchy.
  • Second, generative culture emphasizes the mission, an emphasis that allows people involved to put aside their personal issues and also the departmental issues that are so evident in bureaucratic organizations. The mission is primary.
  • Third, generativity encourages a level playing field, in which hierarchy plays less of a role.

A good culture is reflected in the high level of collaboration and trust inside the organization. In addition, a better organizational culture can indicate higher-quality decision making. In a team with a generative culture, not only is the better information available for making decisions, but those decisions are more easily reversed if they turn out to be wrong, because the team is more likely to be open and transparent. Problems are also more rapidly discovered and addressed.

Ultimately, culture predicts software delivery performance, organizational performance, and leads to higher levels of job satisfaction.[2]

Value creation in the past was a function of economies of industrial scale: mass production and the high efficiency of repeatable tasks. The value of products and services today is based more and more on creativity – the innovative ways that they take advantage of new materials, technologies, and processes.

The means and speed of the value creation will bring massive disruption. Therefore, the only question that any organizational culture improvement initiative should address is whether your company is going to cause it or fall victim to it.[3]

[1] Why You’re Struggling to Improve Company Culture? = Dan Markovitz

[2] The Westrum Model for Improving Organizational Culture

[3] Value creation in the future


In July 2011, I opted to retire from my active career as a practicing management professional. In the 38 years that I pursued this career, I had opportunity to work in diverse capacities, in small-to-medium-to-large engineering companies. Whether I was setting up Greenfield projects or Brownfield projects, nurturing the new start-ups or accelerating the stabilized unit to a next phase growth, I had many more occasions to take the paths uncharted. The life then was so challenging! One of the biggest casualty in that phase was my disregards towards my hobbies - Be with The Family, Enjoy Music form Films of 1940s to mid-1970s period, write on whatever I liked to read, pursue amateur photography and indulge in solving the chess problems. So I commenced my Second Innings to focus on this area of my life as the primary occupation. At the end of four years, I am now quite a regular blogger. I have been able to build a few very strong pen-relationships. I maintain contact with 38-years of my First Innings as freelance trainer and process facilitator. And yet, The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.

One thought on “Improving the Organizational Culture”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: