Friday, 22 July 2011

Climate Change

I'm heading down to the Languedoc in southwest France later today. I planned this trip some time ago and the idea is to enjoy the cultural and culinary delights of the region and to write a lot (not blogs, I'm working on a book). In addition, I was also looking forward to having a real summer and topping up those vitamin D levels. The last time I visited that region (in 2007), the temperature was regularly in the mid-thirties, and even in the dead of the night it was very hot. I've been keeping a close eye on the weather in recent weeks, and those who watch Le Tour de France will have also noticed that there has been a lot of rain in southern France this year. The Languedoc, a normally sun-pounded setting, is a little less so this year, leading folk to talk about climate change.

Thus I segue into the topic of organisation climate and the changing thereof. In my most recent blog entry (below), I briefly summarised the conceptual and practical difficulties surrounding organisational cultural change. "Change the culture" remains an oft-repeated cry in the ITSM world, especially around CSI initiatives. However, some have argued that the idea of big cultural change in organisations is more of a management fad rather than a practical way to improve outcomes. I was also impressed by some of the things Rob England mentioned in his recent blog entry about human-sized organisational change.

For me, organisational climate is the thing to change. It's human-sized, measurable (there are validated and reliable psychometric instruments available that can measure the climate for service, innovation and safety), and research has shown that where companies measure highly on the climate for service instrument, for example, customers report higher levels of satisfaction. Read Schneider, Gunnarson & Niles-Jolly (1994) for a more detailed outline. Climate is defined as employees' perceptions of practices at an organisation. The concept emerged from gestalt psychology, and from the idea that people build a mental model of their environment based on what they observe and experience. This idea also suggests that people will act in ways consistent with the mental model they have built.

For example a man sees a dog for the first time, and it is growling at a child. The next time he sees a dog it's chasing a postman, and his third canine experience is of a police dog barking ferociously at a wrongdoer. That individual may build a model that says dogs are scary and dangerous. It is then very unlikely that you will see that person approaching a dog to cuddle and pet it. Therefore behaviour is consistent with model. In terms of organisational climate, employees build a model based on the practices that get rewarded in an organisation. The key point is it's not what managers say it's what they do. Therefore they might suggest that service is important, but if they regularly cull service desk tickets to make the stats look good, then there will not be a strong climate for service. Staff behaviour will then reflect this.

Due to the fact that climate can be measured, it's easier to change than some other organisational constructs I could mention. When your managers change their words and actions, and staff begin to perceive that, for example, service really does matter in your organisation, then scores on service climate measures will increase. This will be a good thing, because it's a reliable finding that customer satisfaction will also increase.

Now if only there was an easy way to change the climate down in southwest France. Oh well, better pack the brolly!


Schneider, B., Gunnarson, S. K., & Niles-Jolly, K. (1994) Creating the climate and culture of success. Organizational Dynamics, 23, p 17-29

Benjamin Schneider has been the foremost researcher on the subject of organisational  climate over the last 30 years.

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