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G00276737

Knowing What to Change Is the Hard Part of


Culture Change
Published: 17 April 2015

Analyst(s): Leigh McMullen, Bard Papegaaij, Patrick Meehan, Ansgar Schulte

For CIOs tackling culture change, knowing what to change is often harder
than executing the changes itself.

Key Findings

IT culture is determined by four main working styles, which in turn influence four primary
aspects of organizational culture.

Failure to understand the key drivers of culture and their attributes, and to make informed
choices during transformations are the main reasons for culture issues in transformations.

Culture clashes happen because leadership lets them happen; don't let personal preference
dictate working styles that strongly influence culture.

Culture change is a process of carefully choosing the desired attributes and behaviors of the
future culture and then consistently encouraging and supporting them over a period of time.

Recommendations

Do not define decision rights, measurement strategies, engagement methods and work styles
based solely on personal preference, or past experience. Pick the styles that will have the
greatest impact on business outcomes/mission success.

Don't look for a single "best" culture: Cultural attributes need to fit the nature of the challenges
faced and the outcomes desired.

Make sure everybody understands the choices you made and why.

Incorporate your chosen cultural attributes and behaviors in everybody's personal brand.

Table of Contents
Analysis.................................................................................................................................................. 2
Cultures Are Easy to Change and Easy to Break...............................................................................2

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Organizational Culture Has Four Key Attributes...........................................................................4


Understand the Attributes of Culture to Build the Culture You Want............................................ 5
Understanding Management Style and Its Impact on Culture.................................................... 13
Conclusion............................................................................................................................... 15
Gartner Recommended Reading.......................................................................................................... 15

List of Tables
Table 1. Decision-Making Styles............................................................................................................. 7
Table 2. Measurement Styles.................................................................................................................. 9
Table 3. Engagement Styles................................................................................................................. 11
Table 4. Working Styles........................................................................................................................ 13
Table 5. Cultural Attributes and Their Effects on Management Style...................................................... 14

List of Figures
Figure 1. Key Attributes of Culture.......................................................................................................... 4
Figure 2. Impact of Decision-Making Styles on IT Culture........................................................................6
Figure 3. Impact of Measurement Styles on IT Culture ........................................................................... 8
Figure 4. Impact of Employee Engagement Styles on IT Culture........................................................... 10
Figure 5. Impact of Working Styles on IT Culture...................................................................................12

Analysis
Cultures Are Easy to Change and Easy to Break
As we discussed in "Culture Change Is Easier Than You Think," people are wired to adapt their
professional or casual social behaviors to the contexts they're in. Since culture is really just a set of
default organizational behaviors, this makes changing culture easier than is often assumed. As
such, it is incumbent on CIOs to explicitly set those behaviors that will lead to success in the future.
All too often, however, the reasons and opportunities for culture change, such as a large
transformation, merger or acquisition, are squandered because CIOs are focused on returning the
business results required of the transformation and not on changing people's behaviors. This results
in people reverting back to their default behaviors and culture clashes. Imagine:
A small Midwestern U.S. publishing company buys another such company in Denmark. The two
publishers have very different creative styles. In the acquired company, ideas for stories are put up
on a wall, and the editors and creative staff engage in a "survivalist" approach, poking holes and
tearing ideas down until only the fittest remain. In the acquiring company, the process is different.
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Ideas are still put up on the wall, but the team uses an "evolutionary" approach, where they try to
build each idea up until the best float to the top.
Which is best: survivalist or evolutionary? It is difficult to tell, since both companies are successful.
Some leaders may argue that the different approaches are really just factors of differences between
the underlying Midwestern U.S. and Denmark cultures. That may also be true, but it should not be
an excuse not to act. The one thing that we can determine for certain in the case above is that, if
our aim is to truly integrate the organizations, both creative processes cannot exist simultaneously.
The answer may be merging the best of the two processes, for example: using the survivalist
approach early in the process to narrow ideas to the best ones, and then applying the evolutionary
approach to ensure that everyone has contributed and is bought into the ideas that remain. Or it
could simply be just picking one of them and moving on. What we cannot do is expect things will
just sort themselves out. We have to have the courage to make explicit changes to the way we do
things around here to get the culture we want. This is the hard part of culture change knowing
what to change.

A Word on the Word "Customer"


Using the word "customer" to describe the consumer of IT services has fallen out of
fashion because people believed that it created a master/servant relationship between
IT and the rest of the enterprise. The authors would submit that, when speaking about
the customer experience, everyone is a customer. Organizations that are world famous
for their customer experience are also regarded as some of the best places to work.
Why? Because they understand that, unless associates care for and treat each other
exceptionally well, they won't treat their customers exceptionally well.
For the remainder of this document, the word "customer" means everyone inside or
outside of IT. The phrase "customer experience" means everyone's experience.

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Organizational Culture Has Four Key Attributes


Figure 1. Key Attributes of Culture

Source: Gartner (April 2015)

When we think of organizational culture, just trying to fix what we can and should change can be
overwhelming. However, by selecting a single anchor point, the customer experience (as we
recommend in "Culture Change Is Easier Than You Think") making this decision becomes easier. We
need but ask ourselves, which part of our culture most effects the customer experience, and our
choices will become much clearer. Figure 1 describes the attributes of organizational culture that
most affect the customer experience.

"How we make decisions" speaks to the general leadership style of IT and generally affects the
overall responsiveness or tempo of the culture.

"How we engage" focuses on how employees collaborate internally and with external
stakeholders, which affects the employee experience.

"How we measure" focuses on IT metrics and measurements and how they affect the overall
focus or direction of the IT culture.

"How we work" looks at the working style of IT and how IT learns, experiments or develops its
solutions for the business.

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Understanding these four attributes and their characteristics helps CIOs make informed choices
when trying to change culture.

Understand the Attributes of Culture to Build the Culture You Want


Note: The descriptions below do not imply that there is "one best" culture or attribute that is
desirable for all organizations. Some of the language used to describe these attributes may evoke
negative connotations (such as "stifles individual initiative") they are not intended to. There are
any number of organizational contexts where (in this example) stifling individual initiative may be
desirable (such as process manufacturing).
How You Make Decisions Determines Your Tempo
How organizations make decisions often has a greater impact on culture than the kinds of decisions
the organization regularly makes. Decision styles most greatly affect the "tempo" aspect of
enterprise culture. Tempo is not just the "speed" of the organization, but also reflects its agility,
ability to change direction and overall operational cadence.
Figure 2 and Table 1 break decision-making styles into four quadrants.

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Figure 2. Impact of Decision-Making Styles on IT Culture

Source: Gartner (April 2015)

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Table 1. Decision-Making Styles


Style

Definition

Positive Effect On

Negative Effect On

Authoritarian

Decision rights held by an individual with


cascading rights distributed in a hierarchal
manner

Accountability
Measurability
Strategic focus
Tactical focus

Individual initiative
Reaction time
Consistency
Decision latency

Leader of One

Decision rights held by the person best able to


make the decision in a given context

Individual initiative
Group Accountability
Decision latency
Individual accountability
Creativity

Consistency
Measurability
Quality
Strategic focus

Bureaucratic

Decision rights centralized, usually into


predefined processes

Consistency
Measurability
Resilience
Tactical focus

Initiative
Readiness for change
Accountability

Collective

Decisions are made by consensus of the group

Group accountability
Reaction time
Sustainability
Innovation

Strategic focus
Tactical focus
Reaction time
Decision latency

Source: Gartner (April 2015)

In general, organizations with a high degree of personal empowerment (regardless of the


centralization of that power) and corresponding decision-making styles (authoritarian or leader-ofone) are highly responsive. Such organizations are typically good at executing predetermined
change, but their ability to identify needs or exploit opportunities for change depends on the degree
of centralization. That is, those with more decentralized decision making will sense changes faster
due to more "eyes on the problem." Decentralization of authority, however, comes at a cost.
Organizations with highly decentralized decision making styles often struggle to act as "one
company."
Note: The characteristics in these charts are not absolute. For example, in Table 1, we note that the
leader of one decision-making style can have a negative impact on strategic focus. This does not
mean that organizations that select this style are sacrificing strategy. Instead, it suggests that
organizations that select this style must "double down" on strategy to ensure that the strategic focus
is maintained and that, even with distributed decision making, employees can still act as one
company.
What You Measure Determines Your Direction
Measurement has one of the single greatest impacts on organizational culture. Your measurements
both explicitly and implicitly inform the decisions people make. One can think of measurements as
essentially "premade" decisions. If, in a cultural sense, decision rights determine the tempo and

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speed of an organization, measurements determine the direction. Consider the following: One
organization measures service availability, whereas another measures service recoverability both
measures are fundamentally similar in the context of business outcome (that a given service is
available), but they are very different in implication. One implies managing risk, while the other
implies problem solving. How would measuring one versus the other affect architecture, technical
decisions and organizational culture?
Figure 3 and Table 2 break measurement styles into four quadrants.
Figure 3. Impact of Measurement Styles on IT Culture

Source: Gartner (April 2015)

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Table 2. Measurement Styles


Style

Definition

Positive Impact On

Negative Impact
On

Just Do Things

Measures accomplishments (not


necessarily business aligned)

Urgent issue resolution


Tactical results

Strategic focus
Quality
Resiliency

Do Better
Things

Measures business impact of


activities

Strategic focus
Innovation
Business outcomes
Adaptability to changing business
priorities

Quality
Resiliency

Don't Do Wrong
Things

Measurements focus on risk


avoidance

Consistency
Quality
Resiliency

Agility
Innovation

Do Things Well

Measures business process


improvement

Strategic accomplishments
Measurability against business
outcomes

Tactical results
Agility

Source: Gartner (April 2015)

How You Engage Affects Your Collaboration


Engagement styles are how problems are solved and how solutions are developed, as well as how
people interact with one another during the course of work. As a kind of shorthand, we describe this
as how answers or solutions are found. Engagement affects culture in the context of overall
customer experience where, again, "customer" is anyone inside or outside of IT. Engagement is also
one of the dimensions of culture that may be different between groups within IT depending on their
missions. For example, co-creating, which requires a lot of involvement and two-way
communication, is often desirable in agile development shops, but it would be cumbersome in the
same IT department's desktop support area. It is recommended (as with other dimensions of culture
where vibrant subcultures may exist) that the organization as a whole adopt a unified engagement
culture, and then have explicit subcultures defined for different areas as needed.
Figure 4 and Table 3 break engagement styles into four quadrants.

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Figure 4. Impact of Employee Engagement Styles on IT Culture

Source: Gartner (April 2015)

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Table 3. Engagement Styles


Style

Definition

Positive Impact On

Negative Impact On

Selling

Solutions or answers are explained


and people motivated toward
those goals

Clarity and understanding of


purpose
Buy-in
Strategic focus

Agility
Decision latency

Cocreating

Solutions or answers are created


collaboratively

Personal commitment or
engagement
Consensus
Time to develop the solution
Innovation

Ability to change the


solution after finalization
Strategic focus

Telling

Answers or solutions are simply


told
People given marching orders

Clarity
Sustainability
Strategic focus

Buy-in
Engagement
Time to develop the
solution

Testing

Answers or solutions are derived


by testing possibilities scientifically

Consensus
Time to develop the solution
Quality

Personal commitment
Creativity

Source: Gartner (April 2015)

How You Work Determines Your Approach to Value Delivery


While working styles seem to be a result of cultural decisions in the other dimensions, CIOs can
exert control in this dimension specifically by how they plan their projects or solutions. Plans that
are more iterative or experimental enforce one set of cultural behaviors; those that are more linear
and progressive drive other behaviors. This is important because working styles ultimately
determine the quality of business outcomes that IT delivers. A highly risk-averse working style will
result in very reliable outcomes, but may suffer from a lack of innovation and may lag behind
industry leaders. A very experimental working style may drive considerable innovation, but at risk to
business continuity and the brand. Different IT projects or contexts may certainly require different
planning approaches, and having built an organizational architecture around one core planning/
working style doesn't preclude the use of other working styles where needed.
Figure 5 and Table 4 break working styles into four quadrants.

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Figure 5. Impact of Working Styles on IT Culture

Source: Gartner (April 2015)

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Table 4. Working Styles


Style

Definition

Positive Impact On

Negative Impact On

Iterate

Projects are planned with a specified end


state that is achieved through iterations
of learning

Engagement
Incremental improvement
Transition state quality
Risk

Predictability
Cost
Innovation

Experiment

Projects are explored though a series of


experiments, toward an end-state
hypothesis

Breakthrough innovation
Engagement
Creativity
Agility

Risk
Transition state quality
and reliability
Predictability
Cost

Plan and
Execute

Plans are developed and executed with


only major events causing plan deviation
Learning is entirely upfront

Predictability
Transition state reliability
Resilience

Innovation learning
Engagement
Agility

Plan and Adjust

Plans are developed upfront with planned


opportunities to revisit and incorporate
learning

Predictability
Transition state quality and
reliability
Cost

Agility
Innovation

Source: Gartner (April 2015)

Understanding Management Style and Its Impact on Culture


As CIOs start to "turn dials" to increase different attributes of culture, this will necessitate changing
some of the underlying fabric or management philosophy of the organization. For example: Hightempo originations can't operate without a higher degree of personal empowerment. So if we want
to increase operational cadence, we need to increase empowerment and accountability while
decreasing focus on risk and a multitude of measurements.
Table 5 reflects the management style changes that will be needed to achieve given cultural
outcomes.

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Table 5. Cultural Attributes and Their Effects on Management Style


Tempo

Direction

Collaboration

Value

Personal Empowerment

Accountability

Risk Aversion

Engagement

Process/Metrics Focus

Source: Gartner (April 2015)

The arrows in these charts don't suggest good or bad; rather, they show a positive or negative
effect on several characteristics directly associated with the four attributes of culture described
previously. This does not suggest that increasing them should always be the goal. Each attribute is
determined by a number of trade-offs that need to be considered. The demands and challenges
posed by the organization's goals, tasks and environment determine what the optimal trade-off is
for each of the attributes.
Some organizations benefit from the more deliberate pace of lowering an attribute (for example,
chemical manufacturing demands a lower tempo).
As organizations increase tempo:

They will require higher personal empowerment and increased personal accountability.

They will see a decrease in risk aversion.

Engagement can go either up or down (for example: in very high-tempo, very mission-critical
organizations, people can become disengaged as the mission takes over).

Organizations have fewer high-impact measures, and focus on repeatable processes will go
down.

As organizations increase their directedness:

Personal accountability and measurement against direction need to increase.

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Risk aversion will tend to increase as willingness to stray from the core mission erodes. Number
and degree of measurements (which are a surrogate for decision making) will also increase.

As organizations increase collaboration:

Personal empowerment can go up or down highly collaborative organizations can become


"group think" bureaucracies or autonomous creative cells.

Risk aversion will decrease because of group participation in decision making.

Engagement will increase.

As organizations increase the focus on delivering value:

Personal empowerment and accountability will increase as each worker is aware of and
responsible for value.

Risk aversion can go either way and is largely dependent on the risks associated with value
creation.

Process and metrics focus can go either way depending on the need for measurement in value
creation.

Conclusion
For CIOs, the hard part of change is often determining what to change. Traditional approaches to
organizational change focus on process, metrics and organizational structure. These are lagging
indicators to behavior, and such changes often fail to result in the desired behavioral changes.
Instead, CIOs should take a hard look at decision making, engagement, measurement and working
styles as the sources of organizational behavior and focus their change efforts on determining and
supporting changes in these styles.

Gartner Recommended Reading


Some documents may not be available as part of your current Gartner subscription.
"Culture Drives Digital Success at Quicken Loans"
"Maverick* Research: Living and Leading in the Brain-Aware Enterprise"
"Maverick* Research: Socially Centered Leadership"
"Digital Humanism Is a Key to Digital Success"
"Accelerate Digital Workplace Momentum by Understanding How the Brain Works"
"Peer Advocates Put a Face on Organizational Change"

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"Five Must-Have Practices for Successful Organizational Change"


"Digital Workplace Organizational Change Imperatives"
More on This Topic
This is part of an in-depth collection of research. See the collection:

Digital Humanism Makes People Better, Not Technology Better

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