Cultural Indicators and Artifacts

Observe how people dress and address one another. What is the match between formal work hours and actual hours spent working? What company-sponsored activities exist and what are they like?

Company picnics and social clubs can be seen as major tools in pulling people together and building a family atmosphere or as impositions on employees' personal and family time, generating friction and resentment. Once again, two different companies in the same business and similar social/geographical settings can see things completely differently.

These twelve domains cover the major components of corporate culture. However, at least two areas commonly mentioned in discussions of corporate culture should not be overlooked—values and beliefs and myths, legends, and heroes. In actuality, these are imbedded in the twelve domains. By digging into each domain, underlying values and beliefs can be uncovered. This is far more effective than simply asking, "What are the values and beliefs around here?" That type of inquiry generally results in puzzled looks.

The same is true of myths, legends, and heroes. These are simply the "stories" or anecdotal versions that give more direct and immediate meaning to the belief systems operating in the company. Myths, legends, and heroes will present themselves as the twelve domains are examined, especially through use of qualitative data-gathering techniques.

In accumulating corporate cultural data, the most useful information comes from qualitative processes—primarily interviews, focus groups, and observation. Information gathered in this manner is rich in anecdotes and examples of how the culture is acted out and talked about. Stories give personal meaning to the culture and provide examples and demonstrations that are easy for people in the target culture to relate with.

These anecdotes and stories enable those doing culture modification to engage in dialogue about work issues in a direct manner. A rich trove of stories and examples, derived directly from the target cultures, makes these discussions much easier and makes their relevance to the business needs and individual behavior much more obvious. Without rich and abundant qualitative data, the organizational change process becomes much more difficult, all the way from design through implementation.

In our discussion of the twelve domains, we provided examples of very different approaches to each. There was no "right" or "wrong" way; the approaches were simply different and equally valid ways of dealing with the same cultural phenomenon. This sort of difference is often the basis from which culture clash can arise; however, in our experience, the probability of having two cultures that cannot be effectively merged, given the willingness to invest sufficient time and resources, is highly unlikely—but some are obviously easier to merge than others.

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