Archive for June, 2019

Pristine Wisdom on Organization Culture and a link to Maja’s Interview with Ed Schein

June 25, 2019

I just discovered today this blog post from the draft section. I am aware that it is a “late post” as it relates to the conference mentioned here but I do believe that it is still worth sharing. 

Culture eats strategy for lunch.  In order for an organization to change, I believe the three most essential aspects are organization direction,  leadership development, and  organization culture.

Many organizations separate the three.  I believe the three need to be dealt with wholistically and simultaneously at the same time in the same process with the CEO  giving the focus.

This article below supports what I’ve been saying, in that culture needs to be connected to behavior of someone and some team around achieving direction. I would like to share my friend Bob Sicora’s article from LinkedIn.


Here’s Bob’s article:

“The Human Synergistics  2nd Annual Culture Conference was just held in San Francisco.  The presenters were professors, HR leaders, OD consultants, as well as CEOs and operating leaders.

Corporate culture was presented and discussed from all angles: What it is, how to measure it, how to change it, how to keep it aligned, whether you are in a start-up, in high-growth mode, or retrenching.

Highlights of the conference included the opening and closing presentations by Dr. Ed Schein. Maybe this is not surprising as he literally wrote the book on the topic of this conference. Schein’s “Organizational Culture and Leadership” was originally published in 1985 and is on its fifth edition. Someone actively researching an issue for so long is bound to have some of the best insights.


With the recent financial industry scandals as a kind of backdrop, all the presenters were clear:


‘Culture matters. But it is also a hard construct to define, hard to measure, and hard to successfully intervene on. Dr. Schein captured this feeling best when he said, “Organizational culture is a bottomless pit of questions and problems.”

Schein’s statement got a great laugh from the audience.

Now why is culture a bottomless pit of questions and problems? It probably starts with how difficult it is to define. The presenters talked about culture as seemingly any and everything, from a kind of organizational personality, to a set of aspirational operating principles, to something that can be graphed.

Dr. Schein clearly shares in the frustration: “I have no patience for words that don’t mean anything.” Though he wasn’t referring at the time to culture, per se, and though he wrote an entire book about culture, I got the sense, especially in light of some of his follow-up statements, that culture is probably one of those words he doesn’t have much patience for anymore.

Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success—along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like… I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.”3
~Lou Gerstner, Former CEO IBM
Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance

As the Gerstner quote captures, culture is something we have to pay attention to…but it still poses a quagmire of challenges. What are executives and practitioners to do?

Dr. Schein didn’t leave us twisting in the wind. He shined a light on a clear path out of the briar patch. His sagacious advice was to have conversations without using the word culture and without referring to culture problems.

Here is how: Start by being very specific about the organizational problem, defined in terms of KPIs, that needs to be addressed: What employee, customer, or shareholder outcome is not where it needs to be?

Once the problem is specifically defined, ask which behaviors, present or absent, are contributing directly to this problem? Or, alternatively, which behaviors or lack thereof are preventing us from addressing the problem? Which behaviors would allow us to solve the problem?

Schein went on, “When you know what you want to quantify and why, the role of measurement in support of your intervention efforts become bell clear.” For those keeping score at home, this is a real win, as bell-like clarity is rare in the area of corporate culture.

Before giving my take on the importance of Schein’s recommendations, please allow me a brief aside.

I had the good fortune of earning my black belt in Aikido from Sensei William Gleason in Boston. Aikido often presents its practitioners with an interesting conundrum: How do you defend yourself against the strikes, grabs, and attacks of someone bigger and stronger than you?

Aikido is not Judo, and Sensei Gleason would constantly implore us: “Do not try to move the man [attacker]. Move yourself.” When bigger and stronger guys attacked him, he “moved himself,” and they ended up airborne like tossed rag dolls. As he was launching these bigger guys, he would often be smiling and reciting one of his favorite Zen koan-like metaphors:4 “How do you get the ship out of the bottle? No ship. No bottle. No problem.”

No ship. No bottle. No problem.
~Sensei William Gleason

Here is my take on what Dr. Schein was saying: You don’t start with culture. You don’t want culture definition, culture measurement, or culture change for its own sake.

You start with the Why. What is the output-related problem the business needs to solve? If you determine that the culture of the organization may be contributing to the problem, then the culture needs to change. But, and this is key, you don’t change that culture by first trying to defining it broadly and measuring it broadly.

Why? Because you don’t need to: No ship. No bottle. No problem.

If you have to change the culture, you change it by narrowly focusing on changing the behaviors of the leaders that are affecting key organizational outcomes.

Why is this better? First, strategically, it is linked to outcomes. You are connecting a behavior that needs to change to an outcome the organization has to achieve. Change efforts can easily run out of gas when they are not connected to big, important corporate objectives. Starting with outcomes obviates that.

Second, with this approach you’re as focused as a fighter pilot. You are only trying to increase or eliminate a handful of behaviors.

Finally, while you can’t see culture, you can see behaviors. Because we can see them, we can define them. And if there is something we can clearly define, we can easily measure and intervene at the behavioral level.

I am guessing Dr. Schein’s stone-simple approach probably forced a few people to recalibrate their approaches, but just to make sure, he closed with this quip: “Change agents who think corporate culture change is hard might be doing it wrong.”

That remark got a big laugh too, but the peals of laughter here had a more nervous, I-resemble-that-remark, quality.

If you are like me, you might be left scratching your head a bit about these two comments by Dr. Schein that caused all the laughter. On the one hand, culture is “a bottomless pit of questions and problems.” On the other, if you think this is hard, you “might be doing it wrong,” which makes culture change seem like not such a problem.

Isn’t it impossible for both of those ideas to be true?

Maybe. Or perhaps that’s just Dr. Schein’s version of “the sound of one hand clapping.”

I look forward to your thoughts and comments below.


1 Schein, Edgar H. (December 2016). Organizational Culture and Leadership, 5th Edition. Wiley.
2 Kuppler, Tim (September 2014). Culture Fundamentals – 9 Edgar Schein Insights. Retrieved from LinkedIn Pulse.
3 Gerstner, Jr., Louis V. (November 12, 2002). Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?: Leading a Great Enterprise through Dramatic Change. Complete quote and text spans pages 181-182. HarperBusiness; First Edition.
4 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. (2014). Retrieved from
5 Chopra, Swati (December 2000). The sound of one hand clapping. Retrieved from


Footnote:  I had Dr. Ed Schein keynote  our Asian Organization Development Networks Summit both in Shanghai and Jakarta the other year.  He said that the CEO is the culture.  I say the CEO and the executive team are the culture.  I always start all my transformation experiences by transforming the behavior of the team in each individual in relationship to business outcomes and leadership development; and in the process transform the culture.

By the way, Ed Schein was absolutely incredible in facilitating the relationship in the conference between the CEOs and the participants.

A little personal story:  Most of you know that I was the first graduate of  a Jesuit institution in Organization Development.   In the first year of the Loyola program in Chicago, I was the only student. Dr. Egan,  who started the program handed me  the first three books of the Addison Wesley OD book series as our starting text books. One of those books was “Process Consultation” by Ed Schein.  I still use the concept continually in my work.

In case  you missed it,  here is my wife and partner Maja  interviewing Dr. Schein.  He talks about when he discovered process consultation.

Link to the Videos

PS:  I have Dr. Schein as the senior living most active founder of Organization Change.



Stan Herman’s Wisdom About Today’s Organizations.

June 24, 2019

Navigating the waves. Much like a sailor and surfer navigating the waves, the demands of the contemporary economy require dynamic strategic thinking and action in organizations in order to maintain the agility and adaptability required to survive and thrive.

Until the present era we have traditionally and in a deep cultural sense, made the assumption that equilibrium and stability in organizations were the rule, and turbulence and discontinuity were the dysfunctional exceptions. But, in this new era, those assumptions do not seem to apply. The phased adaptive model would seem better described in the metaphor of a surfer: “Catch the wave, ride it, then catch another one.” As Gates puts it, “Punctuated chaos” rather than “punctuated equilibrium” is now the rule.

For further information and discussion contact smherman4@

The above is from a person who has had a tremendous influence on my OD practice. I wore out his “Authentic Management: A Gestalt Orientation to Organizations and Their Development.” It was published in 1976 and was one of the most popular management texts used at Harvard.

Stan was my professor in my Master’s program at Pepperdine in the late 70s. Then he edited a popular book that he contributed for our Practicing OD Series.

If you wish, I will send you a link to my chapter in the book below on Whole System Transformation that Stan edited for us in Practicing OD Series.

Practice Organization Development: Free Book for you!

June 18, 2019

link to free full fledged book titled Practice OD


Heavy hitting authors. Starts out with Billie Alban the now senior living OD practitioner retired. With her friend, they review the history and future of OD. They especially attend to my interest of Large Groups.


Classic chapter from Sandra Janoff as she shares her personal life story. She made Future Search famous.


Another ten of my favorite OD Authors!!


Truly for Peace


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