Kevin Fong - Organizational Design

The Importance of Assessing your Organization’s Culture

An important yet elusive aspect of an organization is its culture.  It can influence a customer’s choice between two similar products, services or organizations – Apple or PC.  Target or Wal-mart.  Your organization or the one down the street.  While the offerings may be similar, it’s the gut feeling that attracts and retains organizational loyalty.  An organization’s culture can make the difference between its success and failure, therefore it is important to articulate, assess and act upon it to maximize its positive and manage its negative effects. 

Organizational culture results from four key drivers: 1) philosophy; 2) founding principles; 3) institutional story; and 4) leadership and communication style.  The most variable is the fourth driver – leadership and communication style – and it is the most effective way to implement positive changes. 

The Five Elements of Organizational Success provides a framework to assess leadership and communication styles. The tool surfaces healthy and unhealthy patterns in an organization’s culture and helps people understand and respond to both anticipated and unanticipated changes in a constructive manner. Drawing upon some fundamentals found in nature and the workplace, the Five Elements of Organizational Success unfolds as follows:


Element Leadership Style Motto Contributions
Water Philosopher “What’s it all about?” -Address mission, values, evaluation.
Wood Visionary “I’ve got an idea!” -Explore all ways to meet the need.
Fire Networker “Messages matter.” -Prioritize strategies, attract supporters.
Earth Facilitator “Let’s get organized!” -Develop systems, policies and teams.
Metal Achiever “Just do it.” - Produce products and/or services.
Through a simple assessment, I can pinpoint the leadership style of a group and map it out, revealing work and communication patterns inherent in the organization.
Once, when I applied this system to a national nonprofit organization, I found that the organization was comprised mainly of Visionaries, Facilitators and Achievers.  Thus, the general pattern in the organization was –
“I’ve got an idea” – “Let’s get organized.” – Just do it!”
Evidence of this pattern showed up in the seventeen different programs implemented by a staff of thirty.  Though staff completed programs through the force of Achievers, there was a lack of focus (Networkers) and thoughtfulness (Philosophers).  The organization tended push ahead because they loved getting things done, not because their actions were strategic or in the best service to their constituents. 
Once we identified the pattern, I made suggestions on how to balance out the elements to create a healthier organizational culture.  I worked with the leadership to bring in more Water and Fire to accommodate the lack of Philosophers and Networkers on staff. For instance, I encouraged management to ask philosophical questions, such as, “What is the bigger picture?’ and “How do these ideas flow into our purpose, strengths and current programs?” This suggested a mode of reflection, giving space to look for alignment, meaning and linkages.
Management also honed their ability to provide more focus and direction.  For instance, if there was a flurry of ideas coming from the Visionaries, the management had to bring in more directive language of the Networkers - “These are great ideas.  Now we need to focus and prioritize.” In this manner, the organization wasn’t compelled to act upon every idea, especially the bad ones.
As a result, staff combined several programs and worked in cross-divisional teams based on their inherent strengths in order to share skills and resources.  They indicated greater acknowledgement and appreciation of different leadership styles and the organization integrated methods to accomplish tasks by calling on various staff to take the lead, according to the timing and appropriateness of the process.

I have conducted similar assessments with organizations ranging from 2 to 500 people, and each time, clients ask, “How were you able to read our organization’s culture so accurately?”  It all comes down to this - The people who lead an organization drive its culture. By identifying the patterns that arise from these leadership and communication dynamics, we can develop solutions to manage the negative and accentuate the positive. 

Interested in an assessment of your organization’s culture?  Please contact me. Also, check out“The Five Elements of Organizational Success” by clicking the following link:

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