Monday, April 18, 2011

Make Your Organization’s Culture Work for You

by Virgil R. Carter

There’s a saying in non-profit organizational leadership that says “culture eats strategy for lunch”! Experienced volunteer and staff leaders of non-profit organizations quickly learn that their organization’s culture is a formidable force. It is so powerful that it can stop logical and needed improvements in their tracks. Culture can perpetuate outmoded and ineffective programs for years. How does a leader deal with organizational culture?

Organizational culture can be defined as those mind-sets, beliefs, values and behaviors that determine “how we see things around here”. Organizational culture is an unspoken, but shared, understanding of the way the organization functions, how individuals fit into the organization, the characteristics of their organizational roles, and how their roles are valued. Culture is a major determinant of roles and performance—individual and organizational.

In an article, “Stop Blaming Your Culture”, in Strategy + Business, authors Jon Katzenbach and Ashley Harshak write, “When a new leader’s strategy puts the culture of a company at risk, the culture will trump the strategy, almost every time”. They point out that when your strategy and culture clash visibly, more likely than not, the culture is trying to tell you something about your own leadership philosophy.

What to do? The authors suggest that there is an effective way to face cultural challenges. Instead of blaming one’s culture, it can be used positively. “View culture as an asset: a source of energy, pride and motivation…Figure out which of the old behaviors embedded in your culture can be applied to accelerate the needed changes”. Look for ways to counterbalance and diminish other elements of the culture that hinder change. Using culture as a positive force will help “initiate, accelerate and sustain truly beneficial change”, with much less conflict, and with positive results, than one might expect.

For the entire S+A article, see

No comments: