Personal context is the context we think about the least. As we attempt to navigate the organization’s structural and cultural context, our own personal context filters our view as well as our response. Every person has what I call the “ME” factor. It is made up of our personality, experiences, beliefs, investments, and most likely a lot of things I haven’t thought about yet. Our ME factor often helps us succeed but just as often contributes to our failures or at least our struggles. The reason it is so powerful is that we often don’t see it – or maybe we do see it, but don’t want to examine it too closely. Our ME factor acts as a filter through which we see the rest of the world. If we don’t know how this filter changes our vision, our view of reality is distorted. Some typical ME factor elements are:
Cultural context is the contextual element we hear about most. It represents what the majority of employees believe about the organization and what it takes to be successful there. One way to think about it is as the organization’s reaction to the structural context. Culture can be tightly aligned with and support the structural context or can be wildly out of sync. While structural context reflects what the organization says about how it works, cultural context typically is a better reflection of how it really does work.
Structural context is the context designed into organizations. It largely describes things like span of control, decision-making authority, and distribution of resources. It also reflects the stated values of the organization’s leaders on such things as risk taking, empowerment, customer engagement, and employee satisfaction. Organizational members typically have a common interpretation of the structural context but the effects can be difficult to understand because it often reflects what organizational leaders say they want – not necessarily, what they are actually producing.
This quote is typically attributed to Peter Drucker, one of the most revered management consultants and business authors of all time, whose writings made significant contributions to the foundations of today’s business corporation. Most of us know this to be true . . . yet, we often ignore it in our day-to-day activities. I have watched many smart, ambitious, driven mangers fail miserably by ignoring the reality of this statement. For a recent example just look at Ron Johnson who was incredibly successful at creating the Apple Store, but who failed miserably as JC Penney’s CEO. Why? I am sure there were a lot moving parts but Johnson failed largely due to his lack of appreciation for the Penney’s customer. He tried to apply the Apple model in a context where it just did not fit. Business architects should pay particular attention.