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Pioneering Organizational Culture Insights

Our CEO, Robert A. Cooke, Ph.D., was one of the first researchers to propose that organizations have cultures. Cooke developed the Organizational Culture Inventory®, the most thoroughly researched and widely used culture survey, to help organizations measure, understand, and shape culture.

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Human Synergistics are organizational culture change experts

Human Synergistics and its accredited consultants are experts in organizational culture change, the measurement of culture and climate, and the identification of levers for establishing and reinforcing high-performance norms and expectations. 

Our mission is Changing the World—One Organization at a Time®.  We work toward this mission by providing leaders with validated surveys and development strategies for improving their leadership styles and impact, building their teams, and moving their organizations in a more Constructive direction.

We have become the global resource for culture change solutions by designing and offering validated leadership and team development resources that complement and reinforce our organizational culture and climate surveys. Directed by Dr. Robert A. Cooke, and building on his work with Dr. J. Clayton Lafferty and colleagues, Human Synergistics’ assessments and simulations include:

 

Since 1971, we have supported the development of thousands of organizations and millions of individuals. With 19 offices on four continents, and products and services available in 35+ languages, HSI has had a positive, global impact over the past five decades.

 

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is organizational culture?

We view organizational culture as a shared set of values and beliefs that can lead to norms that guide the ways in which members approach their work, interact with one another, and solve problems on an individual and team basis.

Possibly the most important shared values within organizations are those around the thinking and behavioral styles that members deem to be most effective in getting things done and attaining goals and objectives. The styles that they believe should be expected represent the “ideal culture” for their organization. Optimally, these values should translate into behavioral norms and expectations for those styles and lead to a parallel “current culture.” However, as noted below, the styles that currently are expected in many organizations are out of alignment with the ideal—and this gap interferes with their performance, the engagement of members, and other desired outcomes.

Implications for leaders and their organizational culture consultants: When assessing culture for organizational development purposes, be sure to measure both the ideal as well as the current culture and to identify gaps between the two.

Along what dimensions can the cultures of organizations be measured and described?

While there are many ways to conceptualize and measure organizational culture, our surveys focus on the relative strength of three general types of behavioral styles. The first set includes styles that reflect a concern for both people and tasks:

  • Constructive Cultures: Members are encouraged to interact with people and approach tasks in ways that will help them meet their higher order satisfaction needs (with norms encouraging Achievement, Self-Actualizing, Humanistic-Encouraging, and Affiliative behaviors).

 

Constructive styles are typically viewed as ideal.  They are balanced not only in terms of tasks versus people but also with respect to the importance placed on the organization versus individual members. In contrast, the behavioral styles that define the current operating cultures of many organizations are Defensive rather than Constructive:

  • Passive/Defensive Cultures: Members believe they must interact with people in self-protective ways that will not threaten their own security (with norms requiring Approval, Conventional, Dependent and Avoidance behaviors).
  • Aggressive/Defensive Cultures: Members believe they are expected to approach tasks in forceful ways to maintain their status and security (with norms requiring Oppositional, Power, Competitive, and Perfectionistic behaviors).

 

Passive cultures lead individual members to subordinate themselves to others and the organization to meet their security needs. Aggressive cultures lead individual members to subordinate and use others and the organization to meet those needs. These security or fear-based cultures fail to promote teamwork, a “we” orientation, and a healthy balance between concern for self versus others.

Implications for leaders and their organizational culture consultants: Measure the relative strength of Constructive versus Defensive cultures to identify the specific behaviors for which norms should either be strengthened or weakened (to close culture gaps and move toward the ideal).

What is organizational culture change?

Organizational culture transformation and change entail changes in the strength of values (ideal culture) and/or behavioral norms (current culture). In contrast, changes in factors such as employee involvement or outcomes like engagement reflect changes in climate. Such changes may be related to, but do not represent, true culture change.

A complete culture transformation entails changes in both the ideal and current cultures of an organization. Culture change does not necessarily involve redefining the ideal culture but rather focuses on bringing the current culture into alignment with the ideal.

Implications for leaders and their organizational culture consultants: If organizational members value Passive and Aggressive styles as much as Constructive styles, transformation and a deep reconsideration of values may be required. However, in most organizations, the Constructive styles are valued much more than the Defensive styles—and transformation is not necessary. When this is the case, initiate change by identifying the factors responsible for the disconnect between the ideal and current (that is, the factors promoting and reinforcing Defensive rather than Constructive behaviors).

Why might significant changes in organizational culture be necessary?

The strength and direction of an organization’s current culture are key determinants of performance. Norms and expectations represent the “level” of culture that is closest to and best explain the behavior, reactions, and performance of individual members. Thus, cultural norms lead not only to outcomes at the employee level (e.g., motivation, satisfaction, intention to stay) but also at the group level (e.g., teamwork, coordination) and the system level (growth, profitability, sustainability). Additionally, the operating cultures of organizations lead to (or detract from) strategic goals or more specific outcomes including: innovation and adaptation; diversity and inclusion; safety and reliability; compliance; strategy implementation; employee attraction and retention; and effective hybrid workplaces.

Implications for leaders and their organizational culture consultants: Track, trace, and communicate the positive impact of Constructive cultural norms on outcomes to gain acceptance for culture change and to reinforce it over time.

Why are significant changes in the current operating cultures more necessary in some organizations versus others—and what can be done to facilitate change in the former?

Sometimes culture is carefully curated and nurtured right from the start by founders and leaders. More often, cultural norms naturally or even haphazardly evolve over time. Norms and expectations can be shaped by member’s skills and qualities (e.g., leadership styles), technology (e.g., the design of jobs), systems (e.g., reward systems), and structures (e.g., distribution of influence) that are put into place without regard to values or the messages they send. This can happen because values are not sufficiently clear, understood, or accepted to guide decisions regarding these causal factors. Regardless of the reason, the resulting systems and structures define the climate perceived by members and send the wrong signals regarding what is expected.

In other words, many organizations with Constructive values experience a disconnect between those values and the prevailing norms—and their climates inadvertently drive cultural norms in a Defensive direction. Instead, their values and ideal cultures should be driving decisions regarding systems, structures, and leadership styles which, in turn, would create a climate that communicates and reinforces Constructive norms that reflect their values.

Implications for leaders and their organizational culture consultants: Again, as noted above, the climatic factors driving Defensive norms must be identified. Then, action must be taken to modify each of these causal factors and use them as levers for culture change. If you’re a leader, we can get you in touch with one of our accredited consultants who can work with you to diagnose and rectify the factors that are derailing your culture. If you’re a consultant and have not yet worked with our materials, contact us about getting accredited in our culture and climate surveys so that you can guide clients through the process.

Our experience and case studies show that organizational culture can be measured, managed, and redirected. You simply need to know where to begin.

What is organizational culture?

Every organization, of every size, has its own unique and distinct culture. Organizational culture governs everything, like employee performance, engagement, and innovation. Organizational culture, and particularly corporate culture, also impacts whether a work environment is positive or negative in atmosphere. Sometimes it is carefully curated right from the start, but more often an organization’s culture develops and changes naturally over time. And sometimes this results in shortcolings in any of the categories listed above, from employee angagement to overall atmosphere.

But our experience shows us that organizational culture can be managed. You simply need to know where to begin.That’s where Human Synergistics, an organizational culture change consultant, comes in.

How does organizational culture affect change?

Some organizations are culturally resistant to change. That means that change can be a bit uncomfortable, and ulikely to happen without outside help. Generally, however, once change begins, most resistant organizations find that it’s easier then they had expected.

Why do organizational cultures change?

Generally speaking, organizational cultures change for two big reasons: They choose to change, or they are FORCED to change. There are a number of reasons for both. We’ve outlined them here:

 

Why would an organiation choose to change culture?

  • A change in leadership
  • A change in market or industry
  • A desire for improvement in some capacity

 

Why would an organizational culture be forced to change?

  • A change in leadership
  • A change in organizational performance (like financial troubles or market specifics)
  • Legal troubles of some sort

 

What are the types of organizational culture?

There are a variety of ways to conceptualize an organizational culture. Learn more on our blog.