Managing the Iceberg

Managing the Iceberg

Managing the Iceberg

Norms are standards or rules of conduct to which people conform. Behavior reflects the extent to which people conform to or deviate from the standards. We have all felt the pressure to conform at times. There is value in conformity; for civilized society to exist, conformity to certain rules must occur. This is also true for organizations. There are two other qualities of conformity, however — that creative change rarely if ever springs from such behavior, and that we sometimes conform to rules or standards that do not make sense from the perspective of either productive individual behavior or effective organizational performance.

People are usually aware of their conformity, but, especially in organizations, they are often not aware of many of the norms to which they are conforming. Norms can be classified as either explicit or implicit. Explicit norms are those to which we consciously conform. Explicit norms in organizations include policies and procedures, working hours, job descriptions, etc. Implicit norms are those rules we follow without being aware we are conforming to anything.

In organizational terms, explicit norms reflect the formal organization and implicit norms are the informal side. Using an iceberg as a metaphor to illustrate norms, the formal organization is that above the waterline and the informal one is below. It has been argued by many organizational experts that most behavior in an organization is manifested by the informal organization ö below the waterline. Much of the diagnostic work in organizational consulting involves determining the nature of the organizational behavior that occurs below the surface and how these behaviors affect people and the organization positively or negatively.

Formal Organization


  • Explicit Norms
  • Organization Chart
  • Goals and Objectives
  • Policies and Procedures

Informal Organization

  • Implicit Norms
  • Ways around the system
  • Power and influence patterns
  • Views of what is competent behavior
  • Trust, secrets and collusion

As consultants, we are concerned with:

  1. determining the norms, particularly the implicit ones, that influence organizational members’ behavior;
  2. bringing these norms to the surface, by a feedback process, for organizational members to consider;
  3. considering these norms in terms of those that seem to be helpful and those that hinder effective individual and organizational functioning; and
  4. changing the norms that are considered to be dysfunctional.

LUMPKIN & ASSOCIATES offers a thorough and well-tested employee survey instrument to identify the implicit norms in your organization. While you may have a sense of what some of these may be, a survey of your employees designed to uncover norms will provide you with powerful information about what is really going on “below the surface” and enable you to plan changes in your culture that will move your organization ahead.

At LUMPKIN & ASSOCIATES we believe that Organizational Development should be a planned process of change in an organization’s culture through the utilization of behavioral science technology and theory.

Some organizational consultants offer “intuitive” impressions to measure and understand the organizations with which they work. While intuition can certainly be a helpful skill, what sets us apart is our thoroughness of knowledge and depth of experience in applying behavioral science technology and theory to expand on and verify our impressions.

  • We know how to ask the right questions
  • We have the technical ability to collect and assemble the answers in a complete and understandable format. (We use the same statistical program to compile and interpret your data that is preferred by social researchers at the leading universities.)
  • We understand social and organizational dynamics. This enables us to thoughtfully interpret the information we collect, recommend useful changes and guide your organization through the change process.
Iceberg metaphor from S.M. Herman, “The Organization as an Iceberg”, paper presented to the OD Network Conference in 1970.