May 15, 2007

Unspoken Norms

Steve asks do you know your company's unspoken/unwritten rules/norms?

It's a fascinating post and talks about how the penalties of breaking such norms can be severe. As he says:

If you upset your VP, the rest of the department conducts leadership programs in Europe and the Caribbean. You conduct supervisory training in North Dakota. In winter.

Organizational norms are unsaid, unspoken ways of doing things. In other words, they are culture and climate, all those big words we OD guys speak about, in action.

Changing and challenging it should be done with the support of someone senior, preferably the CEO. Because, often, the culture is in the image of the personality of the founder, or the person who shaped it most. Like McKinsey's culture is the personality of Marvin Bower, and Intel's is Andy Grove and Apple's is Steve Jobs.

In fact, there is a fascinating start-up firm I am talking to (if all goes well, might become a client) for assessing their culture. Just assessing. We're not talking about change yet. It's amazing to see how locations and age of the offices can impact the culture within different parts of the organization.

These norms are what influence the so called "profile fit" during interviews. It's about seeing whether the person will gel with the others and the overall culture of the office he/she is being considered for.

These norms also influence a lot of promotion and career decisions that get taken about individuals. It also influences why certain talented people can't make and impact and certain others do.

So what's the unspoken norms in your office?


  1. Well, here I am perusing my RSS reader and find a nice reference by you, Gautam.

    After many years in OD globally, I am really enjoying your blog as you provide insight and education to new proponents of organization effectiveness.

    Keep up the fine work!

    Best regards,

    Steve Roesler

  2. An Organization is the lengthened shadow of one individual-often the founder!
    I will shortly write about some interesting anecdotes and insights ; affirmative and pertaining to this post.
    Hope you will as always be able to link it to this one.
    I chuckle within on seeing such posts that can trigger the fraternity to think aloud on the same lines and come up with more.