Use the Three Lenses to Analyze YOUR Organization

At MIT Sloan, one of the required “Core” courses is (or at least was!) Organizational Processes.  That is where I was first introduced to the framework of the Three Lenses.

The Three Lenses are: Strategic, Political, and Cultural.  They each represent a different approach from which to view an organization.  Each offers a unique perspective from which to assess how an organization behaves internally and offers clues for leaders interested in effecting Change Management. 

The 3 Lenses Framework – credit: MIT Sloan

The Strategic Lens

In the Strategic Lens, the viewpoint is one of structure and data.  This is the framework where Organizational Charts, hierarchy, Job Descriptions, and documented and Roles and Responsibilities are valued.  There are structured tasks and processes, and data plays a key role in determining not only desired results and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), but also is used to drive decision making and new initiatives.  Organizations that value this tendency tend to have documented processes and charts, they collect and review data regularly, and will always discuss what metrics will prove whether a new initiative is successful or not.  Sometimes a young company or start-up will not yet have all this structure formally in place, but they have articulated that acquiring this structure is something they wish to do, and they are actively working to create processes and establish data-driven decision making.  Questions which will help understand a company from the Strategic Lens are:

  1. Do you have a documented Org Chart, and is it up to date?
  2. Do all your roles have written Job Descriptions that are accurate?
  3. Do most members of your organization know what their Roles and Responsibilities are, as well as those of others? 
  4. Do you keep up-to-date metrics on your business results (sales, financial, etc.), and/or your performance/processes (KPIs)?
  5. How often do you review these metrics, and who reviews them?
  6. Do you document your processes, and are they accurate?
  7. Do you have a Document Management System and/or formal document revision process?
  8. Do you use data to drive decisions, or do you typically collect data when doing something new?

Organizations with leaders and managers who answer yes to most of these questions, or strongly articulate the desire to be able to say yes and demonstrate actual activity toward achieving these states likely value data and structure, and both can be used to influence change in the organization.

The Political Lens

The word “Political” often carries a double meaning today, but in the context of the three lenses, it refers to the inter-relationships between people in an organization.  Is the organization one where knowing people helps get things done?  Who holds power, and is this due to official titles (aka Strategic Org Charts), or more subtle influence?  In my first real job as a Process Engineer, I remember being trained by the Technicians on the floor.  In an Org Chart, many people did not immediately recognize the power that floor workers hold, but when an engineer wanted test results quickly, it often helped to have friends on the floor.  Questions which will help understand how the Political Lens influences an organization are:

  1. How does one get promoted at this company?
  2. Who all helps when big projects need to be done?
  3. Who makes major decisions?
  4. When a crisis hits in a company, who all is involved?  Who completes work and who is informed?
  5. If a new initiative is introduced, who needs to be onboard before it is assured to take hold?

When many different groups or managers must be involved for things to happen, this speaks to a highly relationship-based organization.  Also, if multiple levels of the organization must be on board for “big project” work to get done or new initiatives to be truly adopted, this indicates that people at all levels wield power and must be considered when attempting change.

The Cultural Lens

Often the most nebulous concept to articulate in an organization, the Cultural Lens speaks to the very foundation and origination stories of an organization.  As a consultant, it is a constant source of interest and excitement for me to learn about the different cultures of various organizations.  Some are rigid, some are flexible, some light-hearted, some serious.  Regardless of the culture, however, it does seem that one must first learn what the history is within the company, and how to motivate change given that environment.  There is no “right” or “wrong” in terms of culture, there is only “fit.”  Some ways to determine what the culture is, which can then be evaluated against one’s natural style, are to ask the following questions:

  1. What is the origination story of this company?  How did it start?  Are the original founders still daily team players?
  2. What values does this company espouse?   (Ask many people: How well does the company actually follow these?)
  3. Why do people enjoy working here?
  4. What do people feel could be improved here and why?
  5. Do people talk freely about concerns, or are they mostly discussed behind closed doors?
  6. What are some success stories in the company, both with sales and internal operations?
  7. What are some “challenge” stories – things the company had to overcome – and how did that happen?
  8. Do colleagues often spend time together out of work, and if so, what do they do together?

There will of course be many more questions to consider in order to understand the culture of a company, and possibly it will be hard to learn these without direct experience working in and with the company.  However, this may be the most important of all when considering how to effect change in an organization, and certainly cannot be ignored.

Summary

Although every organization will display some of each tendency, it seems plausible that the Cultural Lens will be the one which highlights whether a company is more Strategic or Political when it comes to decision making, and influential tactics will likely diverge from there.  The bottom line is that Strategy-driven companies need and feed off data and structure, but Political-leaning companies will likely base decisions more on gut feel and who is behind certain ideas or initiatives.  This is important to understand that before mounting any kind of campaign for change.

DISCLAIMER: This article is entirely based on Andrea Jones’ own understanding of the Three Lenses from my time at MIT Sloan and does not necessarily represent exactly what the professors or Institution would state about them.