Prior to the 20th Century, millions of people died from diseases that could have been easily cured by an antibiotic like penicillin. For years, the world’s leading bacteriologists had searched for the missing piece to this medical puzzle. Many times they were looking right at it. But they always “saw” the penicillin mold as a pest that contaminated countless bacterial cultures and slowed their progress toward finding a way to save innocent lives. In the late 1920s, a London doctor named Alexander Fleming suddenly began to see this so-called “pest” as exactly the bacterial killer scientists had been searching for. From that moment on, everyone saw penicillin differently. It was instantly transformed from a problem, to a resource. The new challenge then became how to quickly produce it, not to protect ourselves from it. This is one example of the principle, “what you see is what you get.” Something you “see” as a negative can be transformed into something positive by changing how you “see” it.
The See-Do-Get Process® is a meta-model that describes how organizational culture is created, managed, and deconstructed. More specifically, the purpose of culture (any culture) is to teach people how to see the world, and there are active, tacit, and disciplinary teaching processes by which organizational culture is promulgated in groups of people. Using the See-Do-Get Process will reveal underlying patterns-of-interaction and behaviors that happen all around you, but are not well-understood or seen to be what they are.
Active Teaching Process
A customer (Curt) walks into a store and a new sales person (Sarah) and her manager (Jeff) are standing at the register checking an order. Jeff comments quietly about Curt, “He always gives us a hard time”, so they ignore him, trying to avoid conflict. Curt reads this emotional message in their behavior and actually feels ignored. After a few minutes of just standing around, Curt snaps critically, “Hey, young lady! I need some help over here!” Sarah looks at Jeff and thinks to herself,
See – You said he’d give us a hard time!
The See-Do-Get Process is a way of describing how our knowledge and beliefs are shaped by how we see ourselves, other people, and the world around us. First, we are taught to see the world a certain way and specific behaviors and emotions naturally flow from that worldview because we believe that it is “reality.” When we act these behaviors out in relationships, people read our body language and respond to the message they see in us. Their response reinforces how we see them, how they see us, and over time these responses begin to create patterns-of-interaction in our relationships.
In terms of organizational culture, managers and staff members are actively taught how to see themselves, coworkers, customers, suppliers, competitors, and the external environment in which they are embedded. For example, John starts a new job as an Account Executive in the Sales Department at the SciTech Company and as he begins calling on his new accounts, his manager Sally says, “That’s not how we do it around here. Let me show you how we want you to see our customers, and the people in the Production Department.” Over coffee and while riding to appointments with clients, Sally teaches John how to see the Production Department as a major roadblock to delivering on commitments; the HR Department’s lack of business knowledge as the reason that they can’t attract top talent; and top managers as being out of touch with the day-to-day realities of running the business. The Active Teaching Process is one of the primary ways that organization-wide and work-group culture is passed on to both new and existing employees. So work-groups actively teach employees to see the world a certain way, with the goal that specific actions and interactions will naturally flow from that worldview. When an experienced manager or more seasoned employee models (act out) these cultural norms, new (or less experienced) employees take note of and absorb their actions, interactions, and body language. If the manager or seasoned employee is more or less successful in getting the desired results in terms of achieving their performance goals and objectives, this reinforces the cultural norm in the mind of the new employee and creates a shared understanding that, “this is how things ought to be done around here.”
Think about it – managers come to see employees as lazy. Employees in that same organization learn to see top managers as distant and uncaring. The R&D Department sees the Sales Department as incompetent. The Marketing Department sees the Sales Department as too short-term focused. The Engineering Department sees the Production Department as doing sloppy work, and the Production Department sees Engineering as arrogant. You see your boss as a moron, and then wonder why she never assigns you to more interesting projects or gives you the compensation increases you think you deserve. The See-Do-Get Process applies to everyone, everywhere.
Tacit Teaching Process
It’s impossible not to communicate, so many of the most powerful lessons that managers and staff members learn about organization-wide and work-group culture are tacit; e.g., unquestioned, non-verbalized messages that teach powerful lessons about how things should (or should not) be done in a given organization. At an individual level, a person sitting at a table saying nothing is communicating because 55% of communication is non-verbal (body language), 38% is tone of voice, and only 7% is word choice; which is why e-mail is often a problematic form of communication – it leaves out 93% of the message. The overall configuration of an organization communicates; e.g. the entire configuration of non-human structures, systems, facilities, office spaces, public areas, and geographical location. There are specific places that employees feel comfortable going, or not going; ways they are encouraged to dress, or not dress; and greetings that they give top managers, middle managers, supervisors, and staff members that are appropriate, or inappropriate. In fact, the underlying purpose of organizational policies is to encourage specific behaviors, and discourage others – policies are formal organizational statements of belief about how things should (or should not) be done. It’s important to identify what messages an organization is sending. What ways of seeing are the managers teaching to new and existing employees? To what extent are managers and key employees all teaching the same message, or are they espousing different, competing, or even contradictory ways of seeing themselves, others, and the world? The key is to remember that everything in organizations communicates, including inanimate objects and configurations of structures, systems, facilities, office spaces, public areas, and geographical location.
The Tacit Teaching Process is often experienced as a “gap” between the formal (espoused, written) rules for how things get done in organizations, and the informal (behavioral, unwritten) rules for how things are really done – with this “gap” being the tacit, unspoken, unquestioned organizational reality which managers and staff members are taught through the See-Do-Get Process. For example,
- Managers and employees observe a “gap” between the formal (espoused) statements that the organization makes about itself, and the informal (behavioral) ways that things are actually done. This forces people into a Pragmatic Paradox™ where employees receive conflicting, contradictory, or duplicitous messages; and the only way to keep the informal rules of how things “really” get done is to break the formal rules that are stated as public policy. For example, an organization’s formal (advertised) rule-policy espoused to customers is that its sales persons do not pressure customers into buying – “Just come in and look at our selection” customers are told publicly. However, the informal rule-policy that is discussed in weekly meetings and seminars on cross-selling and is built into the compensation structure for sales persons is to, “sell, sell, sell…”
- If a manager or staff member attempts to discuss the conflicting, contradictory nature of these messages they will most likely encounter what Chris Argyris calls organizational defense routines; e.g., patterns-of-interaction that protect organizations (and the people in them) from embarrassment or threat. Defense routines also make it highly unlikely that “gaps” like the ones discussed above will ever be detected or corrected. More specifically, the fundamental rules of organizational defense routines identified by Argyris are to: a) by pass such situations and act as if they are not happening, b) give inconsistent answers and “manage the meaning” of the situation by reinterpreting it (we said this, but we really meant that), c) make the bypass, inconsistent answers, and reinterpretations undiscussible, and d) make the undiscussability undiscussable. If a manager or staff member were to continue to press on the discrepancy between the formal and informal policies on selling, they will likely discover overt and covert social sanctions against making such situations matters of public discussion. These social sanctions may even involve real or perceived retribution. This is a form of Organizational Entrapment™ where the organization and the people who work in it use overt and covert strategies to keep others from moving beyond the impasse of the Pragmatic Paradox and finding a solution that actually corrects the problem.
- If circumstances force situations like a duplicitous customer policy into public awareness (customers reveal it to newspapers) and the organization recognizes the problem and makes a commitment to course correction, this sends a constructive message that narrows the “gap” between the formal and informal rules of the game. But if the organization maintains its defense routines and survives the confrontation; the gap widens, trust in the organization decreases, and the level of destructive conflict created by the Pragmatic Paradox is intensified for managers and staff members. Over time as an organization’s defenses routines survive repetitive confrontations, they are strengthened and its climate and culture become increasingly duplicitous.
It is important to note that organizational defense routines can be acted out by people through patterns-of-interactions and behaviors like the ones described above – what Argyris calls “first-order errors.” They can also manifest themselves as “second-order errors” where defense routines are actually designed into the organization’s structures and systems; e.g. the context within which managers and employees work. For example, the formal (advertised) statement of the organization about itself is that it welcomes any and all feedback from customers, but the systems by which customers are suppose to give that feedback send them into an organizational black hole, and any feedback that actually “penetrates” these systems is never responded to by the company. To reiterate, it’s impossible not to communicate, and many of the most powerful lessons that managers and staff members learn about organizational culture are based upon tacit, unquestioned, undiscussible actions and interactions like those described here.
Disciplinary Teaching Process
One of the most powerful mechanisms for defining and shaping how people see themselves, others, and the world are disciplinary paradigms. A disciplinary paradigm is composed of the education, training, experience, work-related tools, membership in professional organizations and unions, disciplinary indoctrination, and technical standards that defines what it means to be competent in a particular field or profession. Being accepted as a competent member of a disciplinary paradigm requires people to master a body of knowledge; learn problem-solving methodologies; and to adopt the working-level assumptions of that community of practitioners for how to effectively analyze and solve work-related problems. In many organizations, people with different disciplinary paradigms are grouped into functional units like R&D, marketing, sales, production, engineering, and accounting, as well as organizational populations that extend from line-level staff up to top managers. So whether you are trying to gain insight into organizations composed of customer service reps, particle physicists, oil-field workers, Information Technology (IT) professionals, sales managers, engineers, telemarketing workers, medical professionals, or people who provide administrative support to senior managers; it’s important to remember that the disciplinary paradigms to which managers and staff members belong, and the sub-cultures that form around these paradigms, can powerfully shape and define an organization’s or work-group’s culture.
The See-Do-Get Process is a key element of achieving organizational change because it shapes and defines the kind of commitment that managers and staff members have (or do not have) to creating sustainable change. In any change initiative, the question is, “To what extent will the change process require external versus internal commitment to accomplish, and is this message clear and unambiguous to all participants?” External commitment means that participation in the change process is part of a manager’s or staff member’s roles, responsibilities, and performance goals that they will be evaluated on. In other words, external commitment means that people support organizational change simply because it’s part of their job. Internal commitment means that managers and staff members have adopted the knowledge, skills, models, and philosophy associated with the change process as part of their personal value system. Consequently, people who have internal commitment tend to share the values embedded in the change process and support them in both their personal and professional lives. Different levels of commitment should be required by different populations in the organization; e.g., top managers, middle managers, and supervisors should have internal commitment to the principles and practices embedded in the organizational change, while staff members may only need external commitment.
Bottom Line: The See-Do-Get Process is a process for redefining and reshaping how people see themselves, others, and the key issues involved in creating and sustaining organizational culture and change.