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Flipping a Toxic Work Culture Series: Identifying your Organization's Culture Assumptions

Today CPR resumes the series on identifying organization culture (OC) with a focus on the third element of OC, referred to as basic assumptions. Basic assumptions can be best illustrated in Schein's iceberg model, where the assumptions are at the bottom of the iceberg, totally submerged in water and hidden from plain sight. The significance here is that basic assumptions---- shape--- your organization's values, and the organization's values form what you have in place regarding policies, practices, and behavior. Practices and behaviors are the most visible parts of an OC, illustrated as the tip of the iceberg. An outsider can typically gauge your OC by what's visible.

With a basic understanding of the above illustration and the underlining concept that drives OC, your next question should be, why elements not visible within an OC are responsible for driving visible behaviors? My response-that is the power behind OC. Knowing your OC and what drives it, you can readily find solutions as a leader. If you are unaware of your OC, you will likely drive your organization into a wall. Understanding your OC is that important within leadership. Now, let's explore the third element of OC, basic assumptions.

Before proceeding, it is essential to highlight the differences between assume and presume. Both words mean that you take something for granted as being true; the difference lies in the degree of certainty based on data. Assume is typically used when someone takes something as the truth with a shallow level of certainty or no proof. Presume usually involves a higher level of certainty and is used when someone makes an educated guess based on reasonable proof or evidence. Now we are clear about the differences between assume and presume; when addressing OC, it is based upon basic assumptions established by members within your organization without documentation, proof, or evidence. This may emanate from myths, fables, gossip, he said, she said throughout the years. Because leaders are unaware of the basic assumptions driving their OC, it continues to fester and is adopted as the "norm." As a consultant, I usually spend the first stage (about one week) watching, listening, and observing reactions within an organization. Frequently, the CEO is caught by surprise by the basic assumptions that initially appear innocuous but wreak havoc within the organization.

Peering through the research lens, we know basic underlying assumptions are deeply embedded in the OC and are experienced as self-evident and unconscious behavior labeled true. This element evolves without anyone challenging, testing, or verifying them for themselves. Because basic assumptions are unwritten and usually unspoken, they can be challenging to ascertain, and you’ll unlikely discover them quickly, hence the reason for an expert. These assumptions are mainly identified by an outsider or someone intentionally viewing the organization with a third lens.

OC was coined in the 50s and still plays a vital role in an organization's overall success. For CPR, success is defined as the financial wealth of the organization and the mental health of you and your team. Identifying your OC may be the formula needed to revive your organization today.

Warm Regards,


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