Culture and ‘BUAs’

Much of the work on organisational culture is thwarted due to people’s lack of understanding of it

We’ve written much about the fact that people cannot manage what they do not understand – and culture is often conceived only in complex ways. While we hope that UGRs® help shed a light on culture, we’d like to introduce the concept of ‘BUAs’…

In an article titled ‘Analysing and realigning organizational culture’ (Leadership and organization journal, 22/1, 2001, 40-43), authors Buch and Wetzel discuss the concept of ‘BUAs’, or ‘basic underlying assumptions’.

BUAs are most often unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs, thoughts and feelings. Because of their deep rooted nature, they typically can only be inferred.
Other aspects of culture described by the authors are ‘espoused values’ and ‘artifacts’.

‘Espoused values’ are the words that are spoken in a firm. These include the justifications goals, philosophies, slogans and strategies that are spoken and heard.

‘Artifacts’ are visible and physical. These include dress codes, physical structure and layout, newsletters, signs and banners.

Knowledge of BUAs helps people understand culture – which helps people improve it!

The authors propose that espoused values often do not reflect reality. Sometimes, espoused values are ‘wish lists’ representing the way people would like things to be. When there is a difference between artifacts, espoused values and BUAs, we have cultural misalignment.

The authors propose the need for a ‘cultural audit’ to infer the BUAs from the artifacts and espoused values. Based on this audit, the company can initiate changes where needed.
A major component of the cultural audit involves observation to identify the espoused values and artifacts.

The authors recommend a field trip that includes visits inside and outside the organisation. This may even include areas such as the car park!