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All models are wrong but some are usefulGeorge Box


The model in this case is Professor Ron Westrum’s work on categorising organisational cultures. That’s quite readable for an academic paper. You might also like the tl;dr version on Continuous Delivery.

The abstract to the paper states:

There is wide belief that organisational culture shapes many aspects of performance, including safety. Yet proof of this relationship in a medical context is hard to find. In contrast to human factors, whose contributions are many and notable, culture’s impact remains a commonsense, rather than a scientific, concept. The objectives of this paper are to show that organisational culture bears a predictive relationship with safety and that particular kinds of organisational culture improve safety, and to develop a typology predictive of safety performance. Because information flow is both influential and also indicative of other aspects of culture, it can be used to predict how organisations or parts of them will behave when signs of trouble arise. From case studies and some systematic research it appears that information culture is indeed associated with error reporting and with performance, including safety. Yet this relationship between culture and safety requires more exploration before the connection can be considered definitive

Westrum’s research was focused on patient safety in medical units. This was viewed as a metric of good performance.

He defined 3 patterns:

  1. Pathological – a preoccupation with personal power, needs, and glory
  2. Bureaucratic – a preoccupation with rules, positions, and departmental turf
  3. Generative – a concentration on the mission itself, as opposed to a concentration on persons or positions

There are some interesting parallels between the medical context, and commercial and public sector organisations.

Why this is relevant

From case studies and some systematic research it appears that information culture is indeed associated with error reporting and with performance

That seems relevant to knowledge workers.

I’ve spent the last 6 years doing digital transformation. That’s both in the public and private sector, in the UK.

I’ve experienced all 3 types of patterns. I have a definite preference for working in a generative way.

First, because it’s kinder to people. It’s more fun.

The other 2 can be exhausting and frustrating. That tends to lead to burnout, and retention problems. That’s an expensive problem for an organisation to have.

In my experience, working in a generative culture leads to better outcomes. Do you know of an organisation that wouldn’t like that (better/cheaper/faster)?

Remember: a toxic workplace is more likely to change you than you are likely to change a toxic workplace.Nikyatu

If our civic service workplaces are pathological or bureaucratic, then we’re likely to burn-out the people trying to provide good services at a fair cost to the population. Service delivery will fail, and vulnerable people can’t get access to the services they need.

If our private sector companies are like this, failure tends to mean the company goes out of business. That ought to be a thing that a company, the employees, and the shareholders care about.

It can also be bad for the consumer. Fewer choices in the marketplace can lead to monopoly and worse outcomes for the consumer.

So I made this little bit of the internet.

This is an index page for a collection of writings on this topic. It’s been a long time coming.

I hope it’s useful.

What didn’t you do to bury me but you forgot I was a seed.Dinos Christianopoulos

The Stories

  1. Difficult conversations