Deconstructing ‘Cultural Alignment’

Is ‘alignment’ just a form of coercion by the more powerful?

The folks at NOBL researched the blurring of culture based on where the individual sits in the company management hierarchy:

The Fish Rots From The Tail, While The Head Is Clueless | NOBL

The higher up you are, the better your workplace seems (not just for you, but for everyone else, too).

We surveyed hundreds of employees and had them score their organization not only on individual engagement measures (e.g. I know what is expected of me at work) but on collective conditions, too (e.g. My organization welcomes and promotes diversity). Question after question, we saw responses correlated to the respondents’ position within the firm. We’ve included two (of many) plots of this below. The line is the trend of all responses and the blue dots represent the 25 organizations which had highest overall participation rate in our survey.

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So what does this mean?

If you’re a leader, it’s imperative that you challenge your own perceptions of the organization. However you feel about things, your people feel worse about them. Moreover, because perception is reality, your organization likely has differing and competing realities and cultures. That multiplicity will work against you as you struggle to adapt to changing conditions outside of the firm, so you must work to align and unify your culture. Here, quantifying your commitment to a better, shared culture is a powerful first step in uniting cultures.

Or maybe it’s inevitable that those with less power are less aligned with the political ambitions of the more powerful. That’s one way to deconstruct ‘cultural alignment’. After all, one implication of alignment is that the idealized cultural norms and aspirations are set by those higher up, and alignment is something the lower downs are supposed to do. So the charts don’t show companies ‘rotting from the tail’, it just shows that there is a latency — or resistance — between the upper and lower parts of the pyramid.

When we finally shift to networked cultural forms, we’ll accept that people are always out of alignment, and just hope that those working together can agree to move generally in the same direction.

Besides, groupthink is a trap, not a benefit.

Originally published at

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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