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Organizational Culture (Part II): Meta Process

by eyepopslikeamosquito (Bishop)
on Jun 17, 2021 at 10:03 UTC ( #11133950=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Googling Organizational Culture revealed many folks offering (often pricey) Organizational Culture workshops based on theories concocted by a pair of enterprising boffins, quietly contemplating at the University of Michigan, located in the picturesque village of Ann Arbor.

Though the definitive reference on their work is available for purchase from amazon, you can also get a feel for their process by reading this early paper:

A Process for Changing Organizational Culture by Kim Cameron, University of Michigan 2008
Handbook of Organizational Development, 2008: 429-445 (cited by 345)

Abstract: This chapter outlines a process for diagnosing and changing organizational culture. It uses the Competing Values Framework to describe a validated approach to helping an organization change from a current culture to a desired culture.

... and from the (mostly youtube) links in the References section below. As you might expect, I was too cheap to pay for advice on this topic, so instead watched some youtube videos and read Kim's original paper. Though not necessarily the best organizational change process (alternative citations welcome), at least this is a concrete thing that can be discussed and analysed, and thus serve as a starting point for discussing specific ways to improve Organizational Culture (and Perl organizational culture too).

For those seeking a Perl Monks connection to this academic paper, notice that Ann Arbor Michigan is a mere two hour scenic drive from Hope College in Holland Michigan, the sacred birthplace of Perl Monks (if you drive via Portage Michigan, you can further pick up some COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer’s huge manufacturing facility on the way).

Definition of Organizational Culture

Although many definitions of culture have been proposed, the two main disciplines are:

  • Sociological (organizations have cultures). Assumes you can identify differences among organizational cultures, can change cultures, and can empirically measure cultures.
  • Anthropological (organizations are cultures). Assumes that nothing exists in organizations except culture, and one encounters culture anytime one rubs up against any organizational phenomena.

In her 2008 paper, Cameron gave a popular and practical definition of culture as:

the taken-for-granted values, underlying assumptions, expectations, and definitions present which characterize organizations and their members
  • serves as the social glue binding an organization together; and
  • represents how things are around here, affects the way members think, feel, and behave.

and further perceptively noticed that:

With very few exceptions, virtually every leading firm has developed a distinctive culture that is clearly identifiable by its key stakeholders

This distinctive culture is sometimes created by the initial founder: Walt Disney, Bill Gates, and Larry Wall, for example. All three of these legends developed something special, something more vital than corporate strategy, market presence, or technical advantages: the power that arises from a unique and spirited culture.

Curiously, most people are unaware of culture until suddenly confronted with a different one: travelling to Vietnam, for example, finding yourself immersed in different noises and smells and unable to understand a word of the local lingo ... or asking a question on SO after years of posting at Perl Monks. :)

The culture of most organizations is invisible, most members have a hard time describing it, let alone consciously changing it -- that is why you need tools, such as The Competing Values Framework and the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI), developed by scholars Cameron and Quinn.

Notice that Organizational Climate is distinct from Organizational Culture: Climate is temporary, Culture enduring.

The Competing Values Framework

This framework, used to assess the dominant characteristics of organizations, differentiates on two vertical dimensions:

  1. Flexibility, Discretion, Dynamism (effective if: changing, adaptable, organic, e.g. Google, Nike)
  2. Stability, Order, Control (effective if: stable, predictable, mechanistic, e.g. Universities, Government agencies, Boeing)

and two horizontal dimensions:

  1. Internal orientation, Integration, Unity (harmonious internal characteristics, e.g. IBM, the IBM way)
  2. External orientation, Differentiation, Rivalry (effective if: competing with others outside their boundary, e.g. Toyota, Honda)

Together these two dimensions form four quadrants:

  1. Clan culture (Collaborate)
  2. Adhocracy culture (Create)
  3. Hierarchy culture (Control)
  4. Market culture (Compete)

Hierarchy Culture:

  • Formalised and structured workplace. Procedures and controls govern what people do. Leaders: coordinators, organizers, monitors.
  • Maintaining a smoothly running organization is important.
  • Long term: stability, predictability, efficiency, formal rules and policies hold the organization together.
  • Success is defined in clear lines: authority, control, accountability, e.g. McDonalds, Govt agency on airport controls (strict guidelines for every small detail).

Market Culture:

  • Competing environment, results-oriented workplace, external environment is hostile, consumers are selective, want value.
  • Leaders are hard-driving producers; competitors are tough and demanding.
  • Productivity, results and profits; glue is emphasis on winning.
  • Success is market share and penetration, e.g. Ikea, Walmart.

Clan Culture:

  • Friendly workplace, people share a lot of themselves, leaders are mentors, facilitators, team builders, parent figures, held together by loyalty and tradition.
  • Commitment is high, long-term benefit of individual development, high cohesion and morale important.
  • Success is defined as internal climate and concern for people, premium on teamwork, participation and consensus, e.g. small family-owned companies, doctors without borders, wikipedia.

Adhocracy Culture:

  • Dynamic, entrepreneurial culture, people take risks, leaders: visionary, innovative, risk-oriented.
  • Glue: Commitment to experimentation and innovation, to be at the leading edge, readiness for change is essential.
  • Long term emphasis is rapid growth.
  • Success is creating unique & original products and services, e.g. start-ups.

Relationship between the four quadrants:

  • Each side represents opposites
  • Flexibility vs Stability
  • Internal vs External
  • Competing on the Diagonal: Clan (internal focus) v Market (external focus); Adhocracy (external organic) v Hierarchy (internal control)
The competing on opposite sides of each quadrant give rise to the name of the model.

Why Change Organizational Culture?

The Competing Values Framework Introduction youtube (around the 12:15 mark) gives a fascinating case study of how Organizational Cultures change over time. Steve Jobs, a charismatic entrepreneurial leader, was a great cultural fit for the (Startup culture) Apple of the 1970s ... only to get fired in 1985 for his chaotic management style, when Apple needed more controls and standard procedures ... then finally re-hired in 1997 to heroically resurrect the company after it started having a hard time inventing new products! That is, Apple culture evolved from Adhocracy (Apple II era) to Adhocracy/Clan (Macintosh era) to Hierarchy (John Scully era) to Hierarchy/Market then balanced Hierarchy/Market/Adhocracy/Clan (on Jobs return).

How does a language win? By being compelling enough to be used for new things. It's not solely a technical concern; it's a concern of the language community and ecosystem.

-- Why Perl Didn't Win (essay from

As indicated in the essay cited above, a good reason for Perl to change its culture may be to make it more attractive for new projects (compared to competing languages). Update: see this response for a present-day example of a domain in which Perl is less compelling than Python.

Of course, if Perl was a commercial enterprise, one business strategy to cope with losing market share may be to seek a merger with Python ... thus allowing our new customers to write some truly astonishing code:

# copy stdin to stdout, except for lines starting with # while left_angle_right_angle: if dollar_underscore[0] =eq= "#": continue_next; } print dollar_underscore; }

Sorry, couldn't resist. :)

Note that if you choose not to attempt to explicitly change your organization's culture, it will change anyway. Culture is evolving all the time.

The Seven Steps To Culture Change

  1. Clarifying meaning.
  2. Identifying stories.
  3. Determining strategic initiatives.
  4. Identifying small wins.
  5. Crafting metrics, measures, and milestones.
  6. Communication and symbols.
  7. Leadership development.

The Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI)

It might be fun to create a Perl Monks poll to see how people rate P5P culture or Perl Monks culture.

The organization is:
A. a very special place. It is like an extended family. People seem to share a lot of themselves.
B. a very dynamic and entrepreneurial place. People are willing to stick their necks out and take risks.
C. very production oriented. A major concern is with getting the job done. People are very competitive and achievement oriented.
D. a very formalized and structured place. Bureaucratic procedures generally govern what people do.

The leaders of the organization are generally considered to be:
A. mentors, facilitators, or parent figures.
B. entrepreneurs, innovators, or risk takers.
C. hard-drivers, producers, or competitors.
D. coordinators, organizers, or efficiency experts.

The management style in the organization is characterized by:
A. teamwork, consensus and participation.
B. individual risk-taking, innovation, flexibility, and uniqueness.
C. hard-driving competitiveness, goal directedness, and achievement.
D. careful monitoring of performance, longevity in position, and predictability.

The glue that holds the organization together is:
A. loyalty and mutual trust. Commitment to this organization runs high.
B. orientation toward innovation and development. There is an emphasis on being on the cutting edge.
C. the emphasis on production and goal accomplishment. Marketplace aggressiveness is a common theme.
D. formal rules and policies. Maintaining a smooth running organization is important.

The organization emphasizes:
A. human development. High trust, openness and participation persist.
B. acquiring new resources and meeting new challenges. Trying new things and prospecting for new opportunities are valued.
C. competitive actions and achievement. Measurement targets and objectives are dominant.
D. permanence and stability. Efficient, smooth operations are important.

The organization defines success on the basis of:
A. development of human resources, teamwork, and concern for people.
B. having the most unique or the newest products. It is a product leader and innovator.
C. market penetration and market share. Competitive market leadership is key.
D. efficiency. Dependable delivery, smooth scheduling, and low cost production are critical.

Other Articles in This Series


Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Organizational Culture (Part II): Meta Process
by eyepopslikeamosquito (Bishop) on Jun 21, 2021 at 00:17 UTC

    Given the four fundamental cultures - Clan (Collaborate), Adhocracy (Create), Hierarchy (Control), Market (Compete) - the Competing Values Framework Intro (12:15) instructively noted how Apple's culture changed over the years:

    • 1976: Jobs and Wozniak create the Apple-I and Apple-II. Adhocracy.
    • 1981: IPM PC released. Apple-III fails.
    • 1983: Development of Lisa and Macintosh. Adhocracy/Clan.
    • 1985: Scully replaces Jobs as CEO. Hierarchy.
    • 1997: Jobs returns. Hierarchy/Market.
    • 2000s: Balanced culture: Hierarchy/Market/Adhocracy/Clan (it's common for companies to move to a more balanced culture as they mature).

    Let's similarly speculate on how Perl culture changed during the years of the Perl timeline:

    • 1987: Wall starts work on Perl while working at Unisys. Adhocracy*.
    • 1991: Perl 4 released. Pink Camel book documented it. Adhocracy/Market.
    • 1993: Perl 4.036 released. Perl 4 development ends.
    • 1994: P5P formed as the primary forum for development, maintenance, and porting of Perl 5. Adhocracy/Clan.
    • 1994: Perl 5 released.
    • 1998: Perl 5.005 released. Adhocracy/Clan/Hierarchy.
    • 2000: Perl 5.6 released.
    • 2001: Work begins on Perl 6 "Apocalypses". Adhocracy/Clan.
    • 2002: Perl 5.8 released. Clan/Hierarchy.
    • 2004: Work begins on Perl 6 "Synopses". Adhocracy/Clan.
    • 2005: Pugs launched, a Perl 6 interpreter written in Haskell (stalled in 2006). Pure Adhocracy! (I was there)
    • 2003-2006: PONIE Project, a bridge between Perl 5 and Perl 6, an effort to rewrite the Perl 5 interpreter to run on Parrot, the Perl 6 virtual machine. Adhocracy.
    • 2009: Rakudo Perl 6 released. Adhocracy/Clan.
    • 2010: Perl 5.12 released. Perl 5 switches to regular annual releases. Clan/Hierarchy.
    • 2020: Perl 7 announced as the successor to Perl 5. Adhocracy/Market.
    • 2021: Perl 7 plan revised. Clan/Hierarchy/Market.

    * (Update): During this very early period merlyn used an unorthodox and aggressive Perl marketing tactic by answering usenet requests for Unix shell/sed/awk code with snippets of Perl code ... so much so that posters started inserting "No Perl please" in their posts! ... which of course was simply ignored. merlyn believed so strongly in this tactic that he formed part of the 2.7% who voted against the formation of a separate comp.lang.perl newsgroup in 1989! ... so perhaps this early period should be Adhocracy/Market.

    Note that these estimates are just my guesses of Perl's culture during these years; corrections and insights are welcome, especially from folks who were key players in these events. I'd also love to see interesting or instructive cultural anecdotes from the years of the Perl timeline, for example: The infamous Jon Orwant mug throwing incident.

    BTW, I remember attending thriving Perl Mongers meetings in the early 2000s - which had a completely different feel to the C++, Python and Agile user groups I was also attending. The main difference was Perl's quirky humour (e.g. declares war on and sponsoring a camel at London zoo). By comparison, the C++ and Python user groups were utterly humourless, the meetings having a totally different feel to them. The rise of Meetup changed everything; there were so many meetings that one of my workmates stopped buying food and cooking simply by attending a different geek Meetup group every night of the week (scoring free food each time)!

Re: Organizational Culture (Part II): Meta Process
by hrcerq (Scribe) on Jun 23, 2021 at 04:03 UTC

    Interesting article.

    I remember when I tried Python six or seven years ago. At that time, I didn't see it as a "mainstream" language, and (judge me if you want) perhaps that's what attracted me to it, and at the same time frustrated me.

    At the same time, I wanted the oportunity to use it (for practice in my job at the time, and so it had to be known by my employer), but didn't want to see it bloated and surrounded by people who know more about marketing strategies than anything about programming.

    That's a bit challenging. Now, we fast-forward it to this year and, at least from my point of view, it really got mainstream, but it seems there's a price for that. As I feared, it got assaulted by people who know nothing and couldn't care less about real programming.

    "Robustness, performance, stability, portability? No, shiny new features are all that really matter..."

    And let me state it very clear: this is not to say that a Python programmer is a bad programmer, but that many bad programmers are trying Python, and thus hijacking it, promoting it as something it didn't use to be. I'm not even sure if these could be considered a majority, but they're noisy.

    So, that raises the question: did Python win, after all? Because now, when you say you're part of a Python group, you may be confused with "charlatans". Real Python programmers have no guilt on that, of course, but it's a situation that got out of control, unfortunately.

    In many of these "Python circles", it seems like programming is not at all an art. Creating a beautiful piece of code is not important in such circles. Self-promoting is.

    So, if that's considered a victory, I definitely wouldn't want to see Perl win. Ever. Having lost is appealing enough for me.

    (I think this last part contrasts a bit with my signature, which should only apply to perl code, not Perl culture :)

    return on_success() or die;

        My personal opinion is that Perl, Python and Ruby are essentially equivalent. At least I enjoy coding in all three ...

        Yes, I can understand that, and I also enjoy Python (not as much as in past days, and not as much as Perl, but I still do). I hope my comments don't sound like I have anything against Python or its community as a whole. That was not intended.

        Glad you mentioned this node. Makes perfect sense, actually. As stated there,

        ... they blame the language for the messes created by people who didn't know what they were doing ...

        So, that should remind us that writing poor programs just to get stuff done may give a bad reputation to the language and its community. It happened to Perl in the past, and seems like it's happening to Python now. Copy/paste isn't just ugly programming practice. It'll harm someone, eventually.

        ... if I was embarking on an AI and Machine Learning career today, I'd choose Python, not Perl. ...

        Indeed, there's a thriving AI/ML community among Python developers. I wish I could say the same for Perl.

        return on_success() or die;

      many bad programmers are trying Python, and thus hijacking it, promoting it as something it didn't use to be. I'm not even sure if these could be considered a majority, but they're noisy.

      Yes, your observation reminds me of a noisy Python lover at work who never tired of telling everyone how much he loved Python and hated Perl because Python was so much more "readable" than Perl ... until later outed (during code reviews) as a mediocre Python programmer.

      Update: it turns out he hated Perl based on appearances and hearsay because he'd never actually written a Perl program! (Stroustrup noticed similar bigotry towards C++ "twice as many people claimed to hate C++ as had ever written even a single small C++ program").

      It seems that Python can have a superficial attraction to mediocre programmers (even non-programmers!) because it looks like English ... so they think they understand it ... and then marvel at its magical powers of "readability" :) ... while Perl looks like line noise ... which reminds me of the famous Larry Wall quote:

      I'm reminded of the day my daughter came in, looked over my shoulder at some Perl 4 code, and said, 'What is that, swearing?'
      which I remember from painstakingly constructing this old and fragile obfu (which sadly no longer works). It used to generate a Larry Wall quote from perl's error messages.

      BTW, I accidentally discovered when writing The Lighter Side of Perl Culture (Part III): Obfu that Python obfus exist! I also met some very capable Python hackers when playing code golf and really liked them. Python is nowadays a much more popular code golfing language than Perl - which surprises a lot of people.

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