Organizational Artifacts: Blurred lines or Precious Gems?


At the heart of all organizations lie the observable artifacts, and we as leaders influence them. Observable artifacts are all of the things we notice; the things we see, hear, and feel when we engage in a new group setting in an unfamiliar culture. Observable artifacts are all of the visible parts of a group’s culture that define who we are.

Observable artifacts may include things like the architecture of the physical environment, our language, lighting, IT systems, myths and stories about the organization, as well as the mission statements and written lists of values expressed in our employee manual. Organizational observable artifacts tell everyone “this is who we are”. But what happens when who we say we are as an organization conflicts with what we actually do and how we behave as leaders?
Blurred lines
As leaders, one of the ways we can influence observable artifacts is by what we pay attention to, measure, and attempt to improve upon on a regular basis. One of the most powerful mechanisms that leaders have available for communicating what we believe in or care about is what we systematically pay attention to. When we become aware of this phenomenon and begin to systematically pay attention to certain areas, we create intention and a very powerful message. This becomes especially powerful when we are completely transparent and consistent with our own personal accountability to the expectations of what we measure. When we are not personally accountable we blur the lines of what is expected.

A second way we are influential in our organizational cultures is in our own personal response in times of upheaval, growth, challenge, and struggle. When an organization encounters a crisis every employee is watching you. How we react and respond to any given situation reveals important underlying assumptions about us. It is these assumptions that serve to create new and acceptable norms and processes; good, bad, or indifferent and blurred.

A third way in which we as leaders can influence observable artifacts is through positive role modeling, teaching, and coaching. Great leaders influence groups toward the achievement of great goals. When leaders lead by becoming active and engaged practitioners of the values they expect, when they model, teach, and coach those values, they influence the culture of the organization. One of the most fulfilling roles for coaches is to watch and listen for a person’s special strengths or talents, provide them the tools necessary to perform the expected role, and then relinquish all control while encouraging them to do their best at what they do best.

The three strategies for a clearly defined culture are:
• Pay attention to what matters most
• Manage your own personal response
• Role modeling, teaching, and coaching

By incorporating all three strategies above we stand to create a clarity that moves organizations forward toward innovative and creative new directions. When we perform all three listed strategies we behave in a manner that creates conceptions of the way things should be, that are clearly communicated, and consciously understood; we create espoused values. Over time the work we have done by being actively engaged as practitioners of the values we expect becomes transparent and results in an engaged culture proud to display precious observable artifacts.

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