Ways of knowing and being in organisational culture

Organisation culture – Part 5

When we hold directors and managers accountable for a problem with organisational culture, we affirm that culture is a product of choices made and actions taken (or neglected). Consequently, it cannot be fixed and immutable. While it may be consistent (and sometimes even seems ossified), it is amenable to reshaping.

Just as a person can change their beliefs and assumptions through reflection on their experience and learning, organisations can shift their cultural ‘tone’ by virtue of governance and management decisions and actions.

Ways of knowing – epistemological perspectives

In my previous post, I suggested that whilst helpful, Robert Cloninger‘s Personality Model only drew attention to two kinds of knowledge (or ways of knowing), and that non-profit organisations would want to consider other ways as well.

In describing the aspects of procedural learning associated with temperament, Cloninger identifies habit systems associated with each of four sets of traits (harm avoidance, novelty seeking, reward dependence and persistence). When identifying the aspects of propositional learning associated with character, he links these with conceptual insights and cognitive sets related to three character traits (self-directedness, cooperativeness and self-transcendence).

My adaptation of his personality model was a device to seek insights into organisational behaviour and culture – by anthropomorphising the organisation. In a note overlaid on a modified version of Cloninger’s Model, I suggested that organisational learning and development, knowledge management, induction processes, professional development, and reflective practices would take both propositional and procedural knowledge into account. However, these are only two of a number of knowledge types we may want to consider.

Before you consider the way knowledge, learning, and behaviour management are addressed within your organisational culture, it may be helpful to revisit knowledge theory, and to catalogue some of the ways of knowing (types of knowledge) widely recognised in non-profit fields.

For hundreds of years, Aristotle’s conception (written circa 350BCE) of the types of knowledge (intellectual virtues) was the dominant one. He defined four ways of knowing, namely:

  • Nous (intellect) – intuition, emotional intelligence, ‘savvy’
  • Techne (art) – craft skill, technical competence
  • Episteme (knowledge) – scientific understanding
  • Phronesis (prudence) – practical goodness, judging when and how to apply skill and/or knowledge

The extent to which these four types of knowledge are present may determine the degree of wisdom (Sophia) one possesses. This ability to think well about the nature of the world (to apply the intellectual virtues) ultimately aims to achieve a state of wellbeing or flourishing that Aristotle called eudaemonia.

In more recent times, the types of knowledge we can name have multiplied, with the summary in the chart below identifying 14 different types. There does not appear to be agreement about a unified taxonomy, and even in the collection illustrated, some degree of overlap or duplication can be discerned. Not included in the chart are indigenous (ancestral) knowing, spiritual knowing, and artistic knowing (creating aids to understanding through story, visual arts, movement, music). (See also https://nonprofitquarterly.org/multiple-ways-knowing-expanding-know/ and https://opentextbc.ca/indigenizationfrontlineworkers/)

Ethical Knowing

Cloninger may have intended to encompass prudence and ethical wisdom in his model, but on the face of it, his model only seems to address propositional (know-that) and procedural (know-how) knowledge. Admittedly, harm avoidance is included in procedural learning, while cooperativeness and self-transcendence are featured in propositional learning, however, the implication is that harm avoidance is simply a habit, while cooperativeness and self-transcendence involve only declarative knowledge (facts, algorithms, logical methods).

Ethical knowledge and behaviour are concerned with what is morally good (right) and bad (wrong). ‘Ethics’ also applies to any system (code) or theory of moral values or principles. Moral reasoning has its own methods. Where empirical knowledge arises through causation, moral knowledge does not (as a rule). It is not purely intellectual or rational, as it requires insight into and regulation of desires and emotions. This is especially so when a choice is required between self-interest and the interests of others (including those of the ‘host’ organisation).

One’s level of moral reasoning may also be elevated through experience and reflection on that experience. If ethical behaviour is born of ‘habit’, it is nonetheless able to be modified so that new habits and judgments come into play.

The chart below illustrates several aspects of ethical knowledge which might inform an organisation considering the impact on their culture of the approaches taken to induction of new hires and directors, professional development of team members, and the performance management and supervision of employees and volunteers.

You may identify other aspects of ethical knowledge, or indeed other ways of knowing, which you would want to consider in your cultural governance deliberations.

Ways of being – ontological perspectives

In Five Ways of Being, authors Jane Danvers and Heather De Blasio outline the mindsets and dispositions required for leaders to build a positive culture. The five ways of being they describe outline the benefits of:

  • being trusting
  • being brave
  • being a storyteller
  • being purposeful and
  • being growth-focused.

This selection stands in contrast to the more commercial focal areas highlighted by Accrue Performance Marketing Inc. in their 20 Ways of Being: Your roadmap to mastering marketing (e.g being competitive, buyable, profitable).

Knowing, being, willing, and becoming

These examples simply illustrate that there are many ‘ways of being‘ and ‘knowing‘ available for your board and management team to choose from, and that deliberate choices (willing) and follow up action (becoming) are necessary to fully exercise your responsibility for organisational culture. These four states of organisational self-awareness and modes of ‘agency’ are illustrated in the header image above.

(See also Schopenhauer’s Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason.)

Organisational behaviour is the sum of the behaviours of all who work within or for the organisation. It is their pattern of behaviour, their way of being, underpinned by privately held and shared beliefs and assumptions – all of which can change (for better or worse) according to the self-awareness of the people and the organisation’s governance and management activities.

See also:

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