The Problem of the Strategy, Culture, Change & Filters
Post 11 of 13
Author: Peter Jay Sorenson CMC®, StrategicOrganizationDesign.com
Stickhandling in a Hidebound Culture
30 August 2013
Cultural alignment is the most difficult type of alignment to achieve. Especially in the case of the 777 Program. The 777 Program was living within the broader Boeing Ecosystem. Boeing at that time was the dominant player in the commercial aircraft market and had also been very successful in the defense business. (Today, in 2013, the company is more defense focused and is struggling in the commercial aircraft market. But that is another story we will not approach today.)
And Boeing had been built on a long tradition of being an engineering driven organization. In the caste system of Boeing, being an engineer was the highest caste. And the traditions were strong to the point of rigidity. They did great work, but it was the Boeing Way or the highway. It was a rigid, monolithic, constipated, hierarchical bureaucracy.
The 777 Program was calved off from Mother Boeing precisely because of the strength of the Boeing history and culture. Had they kept the program within Mother Boeing the program would have been what is called a “brown field” start up. A new organization with little independence. By separating 777 away, like a Skunk Works, the intrapreneurial spirit had a better chance of blossoming into a strong, vibrant, and very different organization. It moved away from being a “brown field” and closer to being a free-standing, “green field” organization.
But the culture was still there. That is why the interlocking team governance structure, the integrated product design and manufacturing process, the design-build teams, and large-scale meetings were so critical. They served as critical mechanisms in shaping the new culture.
As previously mentioned, Ed Schein1 describes three levels of analysis when looking at organizational culture: Artifacts, Espoused Values, & Underlying Assumptions.
Artifacts are what you see. The behavior of people. The way the organization is structured to establish norms that elicit certain behaviors. And there are rituals, patterns of typical behavior that are done repeatedly to establish order, reinforce the status quo, and achieve the ideal way of doing business.
When I was in the US Navy (Uncle Sam’s Nautical, Nuclear) one ritual we had was to have morning muster. At 8:00 AM sharp we would all line up in formation, announcements were read, we all reported that we were here, and then we went about our business. This reinforces the caste system. There were the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer, the Officers, the Non-Commissioned Officers, and then us untouchables. Everyone knew the pattern and knew their place in the pattern.
When I was working at an aerospace defense contractor we had an amazing ritual around travel. The organization had 16,000 people in one geographical location. The hangar building I worked in was a mile long and housed 10,000 people. When you had a trip coming up you had to fill out a very detailed form describing where you were going, what you were going to do, and why you were going to do it. And it had to be approved by 13 people in the organization. Travel was deliberately made difficult. So in order to overcome the difficulty, at a specified time of day, the administrative assistants put the travel authorization requests into a big pile and one person stickhandled them through the organization. And every person who had to sign was ready to sign them at that time of day. It still took one person a couple of hours to get it done, but they had figured how to get it done. Fast. It was a quick ritual built as an offering to the Travel Gods of the Bureaucracy.
We have all seen this. These are the statements that the organization makes about what it stands for or how it will treat people. It is the brand promise made to workers, suppliers, and customers. Here are a few slogan statements that indicate a brand promise:
- McDonalds “We do it all for you!”
- Subway “Eat Fresh”
- Chik-fil-A “Eat Mor Chikin!”
- Maxwell House Coffee “Good to the last drop”
- Timex “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking”
- State Farm Insurance “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”
So if you don’t think they do it all for you at McD’s, or your Subway is stale, or Chik-fil-A serves beef, or the last drop of Maxwell House is rancid, or your Timex stops ticking, or State Farm is not there when you need them . . . a brand promise has been broken! (Not to imply that these organizations would ever let that happen!)
Many organizations have well crafted statements of their values, their cherished principles, or their codes of ethics. These are good to have. But they are better when they are actually put into practice. That is why we say espoused. We say them. That does not necessarily mean we do them. When we say and don’t do we are being hypocrites.
Is your organization or are your leaders hypocrites? Do their artifacts (behaviors, talk) match up with their espoused values? It takes a lot of work to get and keep them aligned. It is a constant challenge as either an individual or an organization to be vigilant, self-aware, and conscious of your impact on people. Alignment is tough work.
So if your artifacts do not align with your espoused values, you have a problem with underlying assumptions. The reality is that this lack of alignment means that you do not really believe in what you say you believe in. It is hard for an organization to understand its underlying assumptions and put them into action. We all bring our personalities, our experiences, and our biases with us to the table. If we do not examine them on a continuous basis, we will slip out of alignment or never achieve alignment. And discovering your underlying assumptions is a very difficult and often painful process. We often don’t know what we really believe in until we are put in a pressure packed, difficult position when we have to make a choice under time and social pressure.
The 777 Program Dilemma
The 777 Program Dilemma is that the organization was intentionally created under a different set of underlying assumptions and espoused values than those of its parent organization, Mother Boeing. That meant that the 777 leadership cadre had to articulate the new espoused values, and create new mechanisms to establish the manifestation of those values. They had to align what is most difficult to align, the underlying assumptions with the espoused values, with the artifacts.
So they used the tools we have just described: Integrated Product Development and Manufacturing Process, Design-Build Teams, Interlocking Governance Structures, and Large-Scale Meetings. With these tools and a lot of elbow grease they crafted an organization that accomplished extraordinary things.
1 Schein, Edgar H., Organizational Culture and Leadership, 2nd Edition, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, 1992.