THE CULTURE DETECTIVE
Shannon Sterling was a new employee at a large state Department of Education. She had just received her degree in communication and taken a position as a “community liaison.” Her job consisted mostly of attempting to enhance the relationship between the Department of Education and parent groups and businesses. Shannon, for the most part, loved her job. She got to meet a lot of people and was challenged because the requirements of the job were constantly shifting. However, she hadn’t been on the job long when she realized that she was apparently an island of satisfaction within a sea of discontent. Few of the people she worked with seemed happy, and there was a high level of apathy throughout the department.
In college, Shannon had taken several courses in organizational communication and behavior, and she had learned a great deal about “organizational culture.” Though Shannon didn’t really believe that there was such a thing as a “good” organizational culture, she also realized that she could gain a better understanding of the place she worked in if she could come to some kind of conclusion about the cultural values and assumptions that made it tick. As a new employee, she decided that she was in a perfect position to be a “culture detective.” She figured that by carefully observing the daily activities around the Department of Education, she might shed some light on the place she had chosen to work.
So, for the next few weeks, Shannon spent her workdays with one eye on her job and the other on her surroundings. She tried to observe as much about the Department of Education as she could, taking notes in a small notebook she kept with her at all times. She also tried to get her coworkers to tell her stories about the place she was coming to call home. In no time, her notebook was bulging with observations about the people, activities, and things that made up the department. Here is a small sampling of the observations from her notebook:
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