Beauty (Cultural Congruency) and the Beast (The Culture Gap)

Emergent Organizational Development and Emergent Change® is a registered trademark, 2017. All writings are considered under copyright as per The Institute For Emergent Organizational Development and Emergent Change®, Patrick Trottier and Associates. Written permission is required.

By Patrick Trottier

First, I have to admit that I have been studying, working with and thinking about ‘organizational culture’ for over 40 years and I still do not have all the answers – but I do have some perspectives that I am sharing here.

In the late 70s, early 80s, my ‘graduate work’ was on “The Relationship Between Leadership, Culture and Performance”. Two key and fundamental attributes which were of consistent significance within the two dimensions of ‘culture and leadership’ and having a very strong correlation to ‘performance’ were;

1. congruence, and
2. authenticity.

I will focus on ‘congruency’ and culture here. Maybe I will post something on ‘authenticity’ another time.

Allow me to first describe what I have been defining as ‘culture’ since the late 1970s.


“Organizational Culture is the ‘influencing patterns’ people experience day-to-day through their interactions with an organization.”

It is the cognitive and emotional ‘message’ within that ‘experience’ that has an influence on an individual’s ‘mental framework’, an impact on group dynamics, and thus, an influence on performance.

Many have stated that an organizatonal culture is its values.

I offer that an organizational culture is the ‘demonstration and expression’ of those stated values, attitudes and beliefs (VABs) as experienced by internal and external people through their interaction and / or impact by an organization.

What IS most important is the degree of congruence or incongruence in the ‘message’ received between the stated values and the ‘actual experience’.

Here is an example regarding people who work within an organization. One of the stated values may be ‘trust’. Every 6 months, or yearly, an employee is brought into ‘the meeting room’ and given a performance appraisal where management judges the performance of each staff and that appraisal goes into the employee’s personnel file. Some examples of performance issues are brought up from months ago – issues that the employee may or may not even remember. Such issues may or may not have been in the total control of the employee. The employee feels judged, maybe even blind-sided and I can assure you that employee walks out of the meeting room not feeling trusted or trusting.

Are there any examples like this you can think of?

OK, lets share another one. So one of the stated values of an organization is ‘engagement’. Great! So one day a department manager brings all the staff into their meeting room and states that the organization has decided to bring in some sort of business administrative software (XYZ software). Everybody will be ‘engaged’ as end users in inputting data into the new computer system to ‘track’ various things so management can get a better idea of what is going on in order to manage resources, performance, develop strategies, etc. Management then brings in the ‘experts’ and the ‘users’ go through an intensive training course. The staff traditionally are pretty good at what they do and feel good about their normal state of performance.

After using their new system for awhile much of their time is spent ‘inputting data’ into the system of which they do not control feedback from, but they do get ‘summary results’ in their weekly and monthly meetings. Management now uses this data as a basis for their decisions to allocate resources, etc., which impacts the staff. Management is keen on sharing the data results of the system output at staff meetings to justify their decisions . The staff is experiencing that their ‘focus, time and attention’ has shifted from their customers and base functions to the new administrative system. At the same time, when this software was brought in, no one actually asked them questions like how they did their work, what made their efforts successful, how they saw this new software helping them be more successful, or how this new sofware could help the experience of their customers. After awhile their performance went down. I wonder why? Maybe their experience of ‘engagement’ was not how they would define a great experience of being engaged.

Here is a simple example of an external person (maybe a customer like yourself) interacting with a service organization:

Who here has called a company and has heard the ‘message’; “Your call is important to us.”? As their techno-phone system puts you through a maze of button pressing, what is your experience like? Do you ever feel like you are on a never ending loop topology of a LA freeway?

What is the real ‘message’ of this experience? What is the degree of congruence or incongruence to what the company states is important to them and your ‘experience’ of how important your call really is to them? Has anyone wished that a real person would just answer the call and direct it to the appropriate place to take care of your inquiry?

The Beauty – A Congruent Culture

Again, the stated values, attitudes and beliefs (VABs) are the foundation. The culture is the ‘expression’ of those stated VABs. Such expressions are actualized through strategy, perspectives, decision-making processes, leadership / management practices and processes, interactions, relationships, service /quality processes, business systems and processes, marketing, policies, IT systems design /processes,  job design, job autonomy, work station design, facilities, information / performance feedback systems, human resource processes such as hiring, orientation, rewards and recognition, degrees of engagement… even things like the ‘lunch room’…

‘Expression’ and ‘experience’ are the key words here that make up the culture of people and an organization.

Congruence of the stated values in relation to how those values are expressed affects and effects people’s experiences and thus their internal and external reactions to such.

Congruence motivates and aligns. Congruence builds a foundation of identity with, and a reliance on, an organization’s practices from which a person can build trust because of that person’s experience of reliability.

Congruence is a critical factor of effective performance to achieve desired results.

When an organization has a high degree of ‘congruence’ it also shows up in its the ‘sub-cultures’. While different departments such as operations, finance, R&D, sales and marketing may express the overall values differently, the underlying ‘values’ are consistent across and along the organization.

When the values have a grounding across the organization even though they are demonstrated differently, the ‘experience’ of those values are congruent. This glues the organization together across the organization. Thus the ‘culture’ is anchored in its values through the different ways in which people experience them.

The Beast –The Culture Gap – Incongruency

A significant degree of ‘incongruence’ between the formally stated values, attitudes and beliefs’ (VABs), and what people actually experience, is what I call the ‘Culture Gap’.

The degree of the ‘Culture Gap’ (congruency <–> incongruency) has influence and consequences.

Congruency builds degrees of trust, connection, and the desire to perform. Incongruency builds degrees of distrust, disconnection and lowers performance.

What other consequesces are there to a significant ‘culture gap’.

In my experience a ‘culture gap’ influences things like demotivation, disengagement, do enough to keep one’s job, stress increase, sick leave costs goes up, conflict goes up, self-protectionism, survival mechanisms kick in, territorialism occurs, the strengthening of ‘silos’ occur, rationalizations, blaming increases… innovation lessens, strategic thinking goes down, responsibility and accountability goes down, continuous improvement falters.  Lack of integration, mistrust, reactivity (vs. proactivity), risk aversion, confusion, fear of making mistakes, resistance to new ways shows up… even degrees of ‘learned helplessness’ show up.

… all sorts of nasty things… can you relate to any of these consequences?

So what can an organization do when their culture gap is critical to the performance of the organization?

About Patrick A. Trottier

I am a 30 plus year applied Organizational Development practitioner having honed my craft in the U.S., Canada and internationally. Presently living in beautiful Vancouver, B.C., I am currently developing the next evolution of O.D. termed; 'Emergent Organizational Development and Emergent Change® (EODC)®, and focusing on Emergent OD®, Emergent Change® and the development of Emergent Organizations® within my professional practice.
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3 Responses to Beauty (Cultural Congruency) and the Beast (The Culture Gap)

  1. Arthur Hemchandra says:

    In any organization, culture is the sustainable factor for orchestrated change to occur. Inevitable byproduct is the changed culture. If it feeds the change, it is sustainable. If it disrupts change, then intervention strategies must bring it on track.

  2. kenmilloy says:

    Patrick, many thanks for sharing the link to this item with me…some very interesting and valuable thoughts and ideas. The notion of congruence as you have articulated it seems to me to be the foundation for virtually any sound / sustainable strategic viability…I can think of no examples where incongruence served to achieve anything other than opportunities for consultants at a point far to late to make positive improvement.

    I love the exercise of having “leaders” wander about and remove the value statements from walls an so on. May have to try that at some point. I recall once explaining to a CEO that while the massive transition he envisioned as critically necessary to the long term survival of their firm was extremely sound and required, his chances of success given the lack of cultural congruence (to borrow your term here) among the leaders of the various offices across North America were less than my chances of winning on the PGA Tour. Our conversation extended quietly for three to four weeks – at which point he opted to set aside up to 4 months to work with the other leaders to clearly define each and every one of the VAB’s that would guide the company. One of the nine, recognizing they could not make the personal changes required opted out half way through the exercise and moved on. The rest suck with it and over the coming year I had a front row seat to a truly amazing transformation. That company lives on and is today a fabulous place to be a part of for all employees.

    Meanwhile, I’ve yet to make an appearance on the PGA Tour…let alone win! Great bit of thinking Patrick. Thanks.Ken

  3. Rick Johnson says:

    Patrick, your comment on congruency is profound, and struck and emotional chord for me. I am pretty sure the insight created “aha” experiences for a number of our colleagues in this conversation, hopefully some that aren’t consultants. If I were you, I would stop giving up my “technology.”

    As I mentioned in my posts earlier in this discussion, I prefer to avoid getting involved in detailed discussions of culture, but if I ran into a prospective client who wanted to do so, I would either try to bring you in or else refer them to you.

    Have a great day! Rick Johnson


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