Top positive review
18 people found this helpful
How to get leadership in proper alignment with organizational development
on 11 July 2007
I first read Organizational Culture and Leadership more than a decade ago and recently re-read it after reading Organizational Development, edited by Joan V. Gallos and to which Edgar H. Schein provided the Foreword ("Observations on the State of Organization Development") and to which he contributed two articles, "Facilitate Process Interventions: Task Processes in Groups" and "So How Can You Assess Your Corporate Culture?" As Schein notes in the Foreword, the core of organization development (OD) has a number of elements that include "a concern with process, a focus on change, and an implicit as well as explicit concern for organizational effectiveness." I know of no one who has made more and more valuable contributions to the field of OD than has Schein. He is OD's pre-eminent knowledge leader.
He organizes the material in Organizational Culture and Leadership within three Parts:
Organizational Culture and Leadership Defined
Excerpt: "When one brings culture to the level of an organization and even down to groups within the organization, one can see clearly how culture is created, embedded, evolved, and ultimately manipulated, and, at the same time, how culture constrains, stabilizes, and provides structure and meaning to the group members. These dynamic processes of culture creation and management are the essence of leadership and make one realize that leadership and culture are two sides of the same coin...Leadership [must possess the ability and willingness] to step outside the culture that created the leader and start evolutionary change processes that are more adaptive. This ability to perceive the limitations of one's own culture and to evolve the culture adaptively is the essence and ultimate challenge of leadership." (Page 2)
Comment: I am again reminded of James O'Toole's apt characterization of a common barrier to change, "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom." This is precisely what Jack Welch encountered after he Reginald Jones selected him to be the next CEO of GE. Jones urged him to "blow up" the organization. Schein's point is that although a culture may define leadership, there are situations in which a CEO must re-define the terms and conditions of the leadership needed if the culture itself is to be transformed, as was GE's and as was IBM's after Lou Gerstner became its CEO.
The Dimensions of Culture
Excerpt: "If culture consists of shared basic assumptions, we still need to specify: assumptions about what? The concept of organizational or occupational cultures reflects the ultimate problems that every group faces: dealing with its external environment...Culture is pervasive and ultimately embraces everything that a group is concerned about and must deal with. Beyond these external and internal problems, cultural assumptions reflect deeper issues about the nature of truth, time, space, human nature, and human relationships." (Page 85)
Comment: Here again, Schein stresses the importance of determining with meticulous care what a given culture's shared assumptions are, and then subjecting each to rigorous scrutiny. One of several reasons why so many organizations struggle (with mixed results) to deal with their external environment is the fact that their perspective is limited, if not myopic. Whatever organizational development these organizations achieve is by nature internal only and therefore self-limiting. Henry Chesbrough has much of value to say about open business business models, those that "create value by leveraging many more ideas, due to their inclusion of a variety of external concepts. Open models can also enable greater value capture, by using a key asset, resource, or position not only in the company's own business model but also in other companies businesses."
The Leadership Role in Culture Building, Embedding, and Evolving
Excerpt: "To fully understand the relationship of leadership to culture, we also have to take a developmental view of organizational growth. [Schein covers] the role of leadership in beginning the formation of an organizational culture in Chapter Twelve...[He then describes in Chapter Fifteen] ten different mechanisms or processes that cause cultures to change, and [points out] the role that leaders can and should play in using these processes to skew cultural evolution to their purposes. All of these are natural processes that should be distinguished from what [he calls] managed change, the process by which leaders set out to solve specific organizational problems that may or may not involve cultural elements." (Pages 223-224)
Comment: In the aforementioned Foreword to Organizational Development, Schein suggests that process "is as important as content, and sometimes more important." When identifying and then discussing ten culture change mechanisms in Chapter Fifteen, the focus is indeed on process and Schein notes that the role of the leader in "managing" culture differs at different stages of organizational evolution. For example, during an organization's Founding and Early Growth stage, the main cultural thrust comes from the founders and their assumptions. Hence the appropriateness of incremental change through general and specific evolution, insight, and promotion of "hybrids" within the given culture. Midlife and Maturity/Decline require different culture change mechanisms. Obviously, each stage also has different leadership requirements.
I provide these brief excerpts as well as comments of my own to assist those who read this review to gain at least a sense of the nature and extent of Schein's coverage of an admittedly complicated, indeed formidable challenge: how to get leadership in proper alignment with organizational development to achieve and then sustain an appropriate environment by taking into full account elements that include "a concern with process, a focus on change, and an implicit as well as explicit concern for organizational effectiveness."
What Edgar H. Schein offers is a brilliant achievement.