Culture is consistent, observable patterns of behavior in organizations. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” This view elevates repeated behavior or habits as the core of culture and deemphasizes what people feel, think or believe. It also focuses our attention on the forces that shape behavior in organizations, and so highlights an important question: are all those forces (including structure, processes, and incentives) “culture” or is culture simply the behavioral outputs?

Culture is powerfully shaped by incentives. The best predictor of what people will do is what they are incentivized to do. By incentives, we mean here the full set of incentives — monetary rewards, non-monetary rewards such as status, recognition and advancement, and sanctions — to which members of the organization are subject. But where do incentives come from? As with the previous definition, there are potential chicken-and-egg issues. Are patterns of behavior the product of incentives, or have incentives been shaped in fundamental ways by beliefs and values that underpin the culture?

InMillhouse can help you to manage your organizations culture trough a social control system. Here the focus is the role of culture in promoting and reinforcing “right” thinking and behaving, and sanctioning “wrong” thinking and behaving. Key in this definition of culture is the idea of behavioral “norms” that must be upheld, and associated social sanctions that are imposed on those who don’t “stay within the lines.” This view also focuses attention on how the evolution of the organization shaped the culture. That is, how have the existing norms promoted the survival of the organization in the past? Note: implicit in this evolutionary view is the idea that established cultures can become impediments to survival when there are substantial environmental changes. Please contact us to find out more.