You are here

Practice 5: Make Sure That Cultural Artifacts Support Accountability

6 October, 2015 - 11:51

As discussed previously, cultural artifacts are the visible expressions of the underlying values and assumptions that pervade an organization. When changing a culture, changing the visible artifacts makes a conscious and unconscious impression on the organization’s members. There are at least five types of cultural artifacts: (a) normal behavior, (b) myths and sagas, (c) language systems and metaphors, (d) symbols, rituals, and ceremonies, and (e) physical surroundings including interior design and physical equipment.  1

One cultural artifact surrounding accountability is who gets celebrated and who gets ignored. Clearly, celebrating and promoting individuals who deliver results on time and within budget is one way to support movement to more accountable culture. Also, individuals who don’t deliver results on time or within budget need to be privately confronted, coached, and sometimes removed from the organization.  2

The transformation of Continental Airlines is a prime example of how important changing artifacts are to making a culture more accountable. To change behavioral norms that had been associated with low productivity, the leaders instituted a bonus system that rewarded high levels of productivity. In order to align the culture with the new business strategy, the leader’s next act was to reduce the corporate policy manual from 800 pages to just 80 pages and then conduct a ritual where the former manuals were burned by the employees. In addition, the catch phrase “from worst to first” was used to focus employees’ attention on the desired results. Whenever key milestones were achieved, corporate celebrations were arranged. And executives were required to work on holidays so that “we are all in this together” in Continental’s effort to become more accountable and productive. And the repainting of the jets, renovating of the gateways, and purchasing of state-of-the-art information technology all contributed to the turnaround initiative.  3