The Micro-Culture Marionette
Like forest microenvironments where delicate ferns thrive in mid-summer heat and drought, sub-cultures or – micro-cultures – within organizations are fascinating, generally accidental, and wholly unavoidable features that naturally occur in every human social gathering. Commonly overlooked as the dissatisfied minority, micro-cultures are generally ignored by business management. I cannot attest to how much Mother Nature monitors forest microenvironments; that’s not my field.
From the playground rule (taunt) stating emphatically that “two's company and three's a crowd” to bowling league at the US Naval Hospital in Maryland, sub-cultures are places for people to socialize, exchange ideas, network, and most important to business, sub-cultures are where perceptions about your organization are formed, reinforced, and changed. Sub-cultures have rules, hierarchy, and agendas.
Just as complex variables like solar radiation, temperature, humidity and wind speed can greatly affect the relative success or failure of microenvironments in nature – do the ferns grow in summer – micro-cultures are affected and can be manipulated by a number of external and internal nudges. Change (deliberately or accidentally) one or more factors within a micro-culture and individual morale, productivity, loyalty, or cooperation may change for the organization’s benefit or detriment. Intuitively, we all get this concept. But, the management of this concept is generally ignored or mismanagement by heavy-handed or fumbling corporate processes.
And, when I mention the word “manipulation” I’m not (necessarily) talking about evil or trickery. But, change (organizational change, corporate change, culture change) by definition involves a degree of manipulation.
Most modern companies struggling to grow or struggling to survive do not have strong enough senior leadership that is sufficiently in touch with the multiple layers of the organization (think mailroom). Nor do most modern organizations have leadership that is inspirational enough, motivational enough, or charismatic enough to lead blindly. While many companies try to emulate Jack Welch and Steven Jobs, these leaders are anomalies. Yes, you can spend tens or hundreds of “culture change” dollars in the mold of Jobs and Welch, but probability dictates that it’s not going to work to your satisfaction. And, your employees will resent you and the dollars you flushed. It’s classic. Companies are attempting to innovate in vacuums (and the consultants you’ve paid are sailing on the new boats you’ve funded) for the most part.
Chances are, and I’ll bet on this in most cases, you are in an organization where if your CEO said one day, “here’s how we’re going to change,” your first reaction will be, “oh yeah, what do you even know about this organization?” Then you and your micro-culture (and others within the same organization) will convene at lunch or after work and eviscerate the CEO’s new initiative. In some cases the result will be an overall culture daring the brass to prove that their new initiative will work. This is the negative audience rather than the neutral or eager audience. The program begins at a deficit.
OK, so micro-cultures are important. How do we define, influence, and change micro-cultures? Find the leaders of them.
Operation Influence [incomplete]
Perceived Level in Organization (weight = 4)
Cross Cliques (3)
Access to Information (Real) (3)
Perceived Vulnerability (2)
In the Know (Buzz) (1)
Impact on Decision Makers (4)