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Influence and Culture: Part II

Posted Feb 18 2009 12:03pm

Smart managers and employees know that influence involves knowing one's self and understanding how to navigate the "how to" of the organization. That means paying attention to the corporate culture and learning how to get things done according to the often-unspoken rules.

I try to practice what we preach in our consulting work by offering as many ways as possible to look at--and learn about--a certain dynamic. Influence and Culture Part I showed one useful cultural model; here's another model that I hope will add to your understanding.

Charles Handy’s Take on Culture

Charles Handy has created a typology of organizational cultures with respect to their priorities and modes of operation. Here is his contribution:

Power Culture:  'Zeus' (could be likened to a spider web)

There is only one source of power and influence (a group of leaders) striving to maintain absolute control over the organization along threads diverging from the center to the outside of the organization. The horizontal "rings" in the web reflect other relations (functional, social) but they are not as Spider-web

 strong as the central threads. Related decisions are made under the influence of the leaders’ priorities vs. procedures. Individuals from the heart of the web have information and control. This type of organizational culture is suitable for an unstable environment needing  quick response times. Problem: the quality of the actions depends chiefly on the leaders’ competence. Power culture seems to work best in small organizations. Too much growth may break down the culture. In fact, loss of the leader may even signal the end of the organization.

Role Culture: 'Apollo' is reminiscent of an ancient Greek temple. This culture’s strength lies in its specialization. Every pillar is almost an independent department or project (think "Greek silos); the specialists and their functions may also be pillars. Each pillar’s operation and cooperation among them is coordinated by the senior leadership council/procedural overseers, who could be viewed as the temple’s roof.

These tend to be bureaucratic organizations. Cooperation among the pillars is based upon Greek procedures and job descriptions. In this culture, effectiveness depends on rational goal setting and allocating financial means to the pillars. Power depends on the formal position in the organization’s structure rather than sheer performance.

The employee’s role is more important than the person assuming this role. This type of culture is suitable for a stable environment when the goals don't change much and specialized teams can be established for each goal. Problems arise when a sudden change takes place in the environment and one of the "pillars" is no longer needed. The organization may actually fall apart when the “roof” is gone.


Task Culture:'Athena'

This culture may be portrayed as a net with some ropes thicker and stronger than others. In this culture, emphasis is placed on getting the job, task, or project done. Power stems from knowledge and experience in tackling this type of task. Task culture is targeted at teamwork and a group achieving a common goal.

Ropes This culture’s chief advantage lies in its flexibility and ability to adjust to changing conditions. Work groups are created to handle specific tasks and are dissolved when the task is over. The same individuals  create new teams tailored to the latest needs.

Task culture is capable of rapid actions. It is managed by experts rather than  positions. Control is very difficult to exert; it is actually possible only when resorting to milestones or by monitoring the key individuals’ work. Effectiveness is ensured by quickly moving around resources from individuals to projects and back. Problems may arise when access to information and resources is limited. With long-term projects and a stable environment, task culture may transform into role culture.

Person Culture: 'Dionysus'

In this scenario the organization is all about the individuals in it. These companies exist to satisfy the requirements of the particular individual(s) involved in the organization. The company’s role is reduced to organizing a comfortable workplace. They typically exist among lawyers, accountants, Person architects and consultants: specialists often practicing what might be called the "liberal" professions. An individual may leave the company but the company often exercises  no right to make decisions about the employee.

Note: Changing economic circumstances have also brought changes to the cultural norms in these organizations. What was once a collegial assembly of professionals can now be managed as closely as any of the other cultures.

Influence over the course of a career means organizational understanding of what's happening, how, and why. A good way to practice using your cultural antennae is to start with Jackie Cameron's suggestion to sense the mood in the room.

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