The infamous change triangle (2)

Structure and Culture

People don’t work in a vacuum. There are two dimensions outside of their control that directly impact how they work — Structure and Culture.

Although structure is supposed to follow strategy this is not always the case; especially where the strategy is not clear or consistent. But your structure, how accountabilities and roles are divided up can directly impact how people work. And the visible structure does not need to change for things to change.

For example bank managers are still bank managers but their power and authority has largely been eliminated compared to their role two decades ago. They are now staff managers rather than lenders or account managers. From the outside the structure looks the same, but the reality is the accountabilities have been radically changed.

So, structure is more than just who reports to whom, but also how the roles relate and how accountability and authority is assigned.

Changes to any of these structural dimensions need to be carefully managed so that people don’t end up with non-jobs (all accountability and no authority) or dead-end jobs or inappropriate reporting lines, and so on. Especially as some of these changes can often be made without the physical structure seeming to change.

Culture is best defined as “how we do things around here”. Culture is partly driven from the top of the organization (how the management behaves rather than what it says) but can be very resilient at the lower levels even if the "top" changes.

If you want to make lasting change you have to align the culture and this is far more than just people – process – technology; this is about behaviour, belief systems and perceived reward systems. (“Perceived” in terms of what is seen to be rewarded in practice and historically.)

To understand the impact of persistent culture, some years ago I sensed a disconnect between the intent of the manufacturing processes and what was happening on the shop floor. Then I realized that the processes were focused on tight manufacturing control based on small order volumes, but the culture was based on ‘economies of scale’ that saw small manufacturing volumes as inefficient and often overrode the orders and made ‘economic quantities’. The shop floor staff saw ‘efficiency’ as a major rewarded manufacturing measure; management saw low inventories as its key corporate measure. A big clash!

When you undertake major change, you need to assess the drivers of the current culture to see if they need to be changed to facilitate the new ways of operating. And to change culture you need to change behaviour and belief systems. Otherwise, all the people change in the world will be to little avail if the culture persists to undermine your changes.

So now we have people, process, technology, structure and culture. Next week the final two elements.

Do you thing the P-P-T triangle meets all of your needs?

Please add your comments to the blog.

© Jed Simms, Australia, 2009

Topics: Mental Models, Beliefs and Myths

Further Reading



[1] ...

Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (May 2009) as "The Infamous People-Process-Technology Triangle (2)"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections