Every organization includes three key subcultures of management: Operator (front-line supervisors), Engineering (middle management, including managers & directors),



The Idea in Brief

Every organization includes three key subcultures of management:  Operator (front-line supervisors), Engineering (middle management, including managers & directors), and Executive (including vice presidents and chief officers).  “The three communities of executives, engineers, and operators do not really understand each other very well.  A lack of alignment among the three groups and their core assumptions can hinder learning in an organization,” and cause change to fail.

Operator Culture

The operator culture is an internal organizational culture based on operational success:

·       Organizational success depends on people’s KSAs and commitment (especially at the level of line units).

·       KSAs required for success are “local” and based on the organization’s core technologies.

·       No system is perfect.  Operators must be able to learn and deal with surprises.

·       Complex operations are non-linear, involve complex interdependencies, and often defy simple, quantitative explanations.  Operators must to work as a collaborative team.

Engineering Culture

The engineering culture is world-wide, composed of the designers and technocrats who drive an organization’s core technologies.  Its key assumptions include the following:

·       “Engineers” are proactively optimistic that they can and should master nature.

·       “Engineers” are pragmatic perfectionists who prefer “people free” solutions.

·       The ideal world is one of elegant machines and processes without human intervention.

·       “Engineers” over-design for safety.

·       “Engineers” prefer linear, simple, cause-and-effect, quantitative thinking.

Executive Culture

The executive culture is a world-wide occupational community focused on capital markets:

·       Financial Focus -

o   Financial survival and growth to ensure returns to “shareholders” and to society.

·       Self-Image: The Embattled Lone Hero

o   Hostile, competitive environment where the CEO is isolated, yet in total control.

o   Executives must trust their own judgment.

·       Hierarchical and Individual Focus

o   Organization hierarchy is the primary means of maintaining control.

o   The organization must be a team, but accountability must be individual.

o   Experimenting and risk taking only to permit the executive to stay in control.

·       Task and Control Focus

o   Large organizations must be run by rules, routines (systems), and rituals

o   Ideal world is one in which the organization performs like a well-oiled machine.

o   People are a necessary evil, not an intrinsic value.

Implications for Applying the Ideas

Organizations will not learn effectively until they recognize and confront the implications of these three cultures and their differences: stimulate communication that fosters a greater level of mutual understanding.  In communicating change to each of these audiences, recognize and communicate to deeply embedded (tacit), shared assumptions of executives, engineers, and operators.  

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