The title of this blog is actually a quote from the “What is BPX” wiki here on SDN. The statement is clear and I think no experienced consultant would disagree with it. It is obviously a must. What is not so clear is how to realize it. I will share some thoughts about it.
What is culture?
Culture is one of the most intangible elements any Business Process Expert must deal with. Culture is “the flavor” of the organization. You can see it as a set of assumptions which impact how people in the organization feel, think and behave. Culture can de described in terms of values, norms and practices.
Values indicate what an organization’s members believe is worth doing or having, e.g. work-life balance, autonomy, etc. Norms describe how people should behave, e.g. tell the truth, work hard, etc. Practices are routines used to do the work, e.g. team meetings, project planning, etc.
You may say this definition is very blurry… well, it might, but still, culture contributes to success. Two Harvard professors (Kotter & Heskett 1992) asked 75 financial analysts to identify the companies they considered most successful and then list the key factors discriminating these companies from those that were less successful. 74 of the 75 analysts indicated that organizational culture was a key factor.
Types of cultures
There are various ways to categorize cultures. One popular approach identifies 4 organizational culture types:
Culture impacts everything taking place in the organization. Let’s take one example: knowledge management.
- Culture determines if employees have positive attitude to knowledge. Are employees intellectually opened? Do they have the opportunity and willingness to learn? Are they not afraid of losing their job after sharing their knowledge?
- Culture shapes assumptions about what knowledge is important. Is knowledge from outside appreciated? (In many organizations it is not. This is called “not invented here” syndrome.) How does knowledge management relate to other business activities in terms of priority?
- Culture influences the social interactions. What interactions are acceptable?
- Vertical interactions: What topics can be discussed? How approachable bosses are? Etc.
- Horizontal interactions: How extensive are they? How is responsibility handled? Is collaborative problem solving supported? Etc.
- Cross-organizational interactions: Is teaching and learning well-spread in the organization? Is learning from mistakes a priority? Etc.
Still staying at the example of KM, what then does it mean to create a knowledge management culture? It is about making knowledge exchange and/or sharing the norm. To create a knowledge management culture, encourages people to work together more effectively, to collaborate and to share, ultimately to make organizational knowledge more productive.
What can a BPX do?
Some maintain that making changes, if limited to adopting some knowledge management (or any other kind of) policies, may prove futile if cultural aspects are not adjusted. On the other hand, attempts to change corporate culture by external force or excessive pressure may push a company into a period of disorder. Corporate culture takes a long time to change. Considering that SAP projects usually take few months, it most cases significant cultural change is out of realistic scope. It’s also known that culture change needs top-down reinforcement from leadership, even management level is not enough.
In order to understand the given organizational culture, BPX’ers have to learn about the underlying values and norms. This is difficult, but can be started with observing the surface: physical environment, employee interactions, company policies, reward systems, and other observable characteristics.
Good BPX’ers have to have the sensitivity to assess the culture and do the necessary “balancing act”.