> If the organization accepts that success in different parts of the
> business is associated with different cultures, what are the
> implications for learning in different parts of the business?
I wanted to give a short answer, but I joined only recently and I don't
know what already has been discussed. So it became rather long after all.
In my mental model mental models (of people, organizations don't think)
depend on the history of their organizations. Past successes generate
structures of thought that are the most obvious, as every member will talk
about them. While those about failures and disappointments remain more
hidden. This cover-up also being covered-up. In a way "their-stories" have
become engraved in mental models.
(Illustration: I once worked worked with the dutch branch of an american
telephone-company for a Director Manufacturing who had been saved by
building large inventories of finished products. In the end Sales wanted
to close a deal with seemingly impossible delivery conditions: but they
could! So he became a hero, got a promotion and everybody in his
neighborhood supported building inventories. This generated a lot of
resistance to changing procedures and processes. Also it was undiscussable
that problems might arise because of too much stocks. Failure to deliver
in time was most of the time traced back to external suppliers (who should
have had more stock) and other incidents. Strangely enough, as I tried to
explain these processes (I hadn't heard of mental models yet, but as a
physicist I was taught to look at the structure and not at the details of
a problem) he was also the only one who sanctioned or rather didn't
prevent the implementation of a Zero-inventory project. Once he gave a
beautiful mixed message to his team "Inventory remains important, but I'm
told that Turn-Over-Ratio (Throughput divided by Inventory) is important
too". Team-members had tried to convince me that you shouldn't talk to the
Director Manufacturing on these issues.)
A viable organization must have stories/models tuned to their environment.
This process is rather automatically: any model-in-use not in tune with
the environment will lead to actions that (increase) conflict with its
environment, thus ending the existence of the organization or forcing
change in mental models. The only one complication is time and in this two
or three ways:
1. Reaction is not immediate
2. Success builds a different environment
ad 1. Time prevents things from happening all at once. So there are
nieces, pockets of environments, in which "dis"-harmony can exist, even
without much conflict. Also because of self-sealing processes. The system
might even become hyper-critical: a small change may lead to the collapse
of the organization. See for instance avalanches and former Yugoslavia.
ad 2. Success, in a way, also means "dis"-harmony with the environment and
at the same time creating a new environment. To quote an example from I
think the theory of complexity: there are no fat rabbits in a dune-valley.
As soon a rabbit finds a new valley, it will start to grow fat and
multiply. It's family will multiply also, to the point that the valley can
no longer sustain their number and volume. But more has happend: the
environment has changed also: there will no longer be abundant and long
grasses. Success, in a way, is like traveling with lemmings and commenting
on the progress made so far.
(Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean is also a very good example: the
statues (successes by ancestors!) on a now empty and desolate island there
should remind us of what will happen when we are proud of the past
successes in conquering fertile and diversified nature).
So I agree with your statement "The medium to long term effects of this
are not yet clear. What is clear is that divergent cultures are not only
inevitable in this organization, they are desirable if it is to achieve
overall success." The paradoxes being:
1. UN-success to the successful.
Divergent culture, once established through success, will become
monolithic, just as its precessor.
(Wait a minute! Isn't the root of the word "success" to "go" or "follow
(up)on". Is there a common mental model on success that blinds us in
believing that success has to be something special? Why do we want to be
"success-full"? Why do we want to copy success? Everybody succeeds
(something) in life! Is success a linear or a cyclic notion? What if we
search for a cyclic meaning of suc-cess-full? Shall it then become
"sus-stain-full"? How are being-responsible and being-accountable tied in?
Do we need success for continuous improvement or is it the other way
around and did we learn the wrong lesson? I will chew on it.)
2. Success can be perceived as a threat.
Progress rests on the irrational person, the lemming staying at home.
Every sensible person will conform to the beat of the organization. I
personally advocated what you are saying ("diversity, disagreement is a
must for continuous improvement!") while working with this very larger
organization. My peers said I was right, my managers said that was right,
I was asked to apply these ideas and had tremendous (measurable)
successes. I even skipped a promotion. And suddenly I was kicked out: I
wasn't even allowed back to get my books and things during working hours.
Why? I concluded that because my success became a threat, very rationally.
During the processes of my dismissal, I talked to the social worker of the
organization. To my amazement she said that in her twenty years of
experience everybody who showed signs of leadership (that's the way she
framed it) left or was fired. The lesson the organization learned was:
conform, conform, conform. And why not? The organization still exists and
who has heard from Jan Lelie? You'll only have to trade in freedom of
choice for security (I think Peter Block is great)!
At the moment I assume that the mental models of organizations are
independent of size, market, purpose or presence. It will be the way they
treat (the histories on) their success: do they in- or exclude their
environment as part of their success? Have they grown or are they mergers?
Do they say "thank you" to mistakes, errors and problems? Inside a
retailer based on cost-efficiency you'll find the same models as with a
cost-conscious production organizations. When you behave (not only say it,
but ACT IT) in a customer focused way, it doesn't matter whether you're
big, small, in mining, chemicals, farming, service, government. I suppose.
Success will be a happy customer, a better environment.
I'm sorry. I'll stop now.
-- Jan Lelie 100730.1213@COMPUSERVE.COM