Seeing Culture touched on the phenomenological* aspects of Culture. This post offers a hypothesis on an epistemological* approach to changing culture. For now, I intend to ignore the ontological aspects, or rather “What Culture really is”.
Sense maker is a tool for understanding culture, and identifying weak signals. When it comes to culture there are weak signals, but they are often strong signals according to other cultures as well. This post is based on Dave Snowden’s idea that the way we change culture is create more cultural agents (stories) like “this” and less like that. So how do we create stories like the ones we want? When we talk about cultural change we mean moving the culture in a particular direction. It might mean moving a traditional (or risk averse) culture to an innovation (or risk managed) culture**. I hypothesise that the cultures of organisations naturally tend to move towards risk averse as they scale and the challenge is to move towards risk managed (innovation). We could use Sensemaker to find the stories but I propose a hypothesis that we can create stories based on our ability to see the different cultures. This is a complimentary approach to Sensemaker rather than a competitor. As the opportunity presents itself I will test this hypothesis and it would be great if you could as well (and feed back your results). It will form part of the Cukeup session I will be running in March.
The approach is quite simple.
1. Help managers / leaders to see culture using the behaviours in Seeing Culture. Get the managers to practice and reflect on seeing culture.
2. Once the managers / leaders can see culture, get them to agree on how to address each behaviour. In Cynefin terms, where to add or remove energy. This is to ensure consistency. e.g. When to praise someone privately / publicly. When to rebuke someone privately / publicly. When to coach someone privately / publicly etc.
3. Get the managers / leaders to mine and share the right kind of stories. The difference between this approach and Sensemaker is that we generate lots of options and let the fitness landscape choose which stories propagate. Sense maker is more precise approach to identify the stories with the most agency and impact. The difference is that between a shot gun and a sniper’s rifle… complimentary rather than competing. And to be effective, both should be used. ( I am keen for feedback from experts on Cynefin on this point )
4. Use Sensemaker to scan the culture for impact.
This is a hypothesis I will be testing. Please join me and share results.
More importantly, please tell me where this hypothesis is flawed. I would prefer to fail it early so that I can find and develop another hypothesis.
* – For Dave Snowden’s benefit so that he can see I have actually been listening.
** – People take risks in a risk averse culture. Its called gambling. Individuals and groups in a risk averse culture have an aversion to risk and tries to ignore it or transfers it others.