Monday, September 17, 2012

Leading Cultural Change

By Virgil R. Carter

Every nonprofit organization has its own special and unique culture, build from mission, vision, people and experiences of the organization, over time.  Facing challenging decisions and change, existing organizational culture will win almost every time.  So how do leaders successfully manage cultural change?

The answer in a nutshell is “start with what’s already working”, according to a recent article “Cultural Change That Sticks” in the Harvard Business Review.  Authors Katzenbach, Steffen and Knonley point out that when faced with opportunity or the need for change “you can’t trade your company’s culture in as if it were a used car”!

The authors note that cultural inclinations re well entrenched, for good or bad.  “But it’s possible to draw on the positive aspects of culture, turning them to your advantage, and offset some of the negative aspects as you go.  This approach makes change far easier to implement.”

Here are five principles that the authors suggest may help an organization achieve higher performance, better customer focus and a more coherent and ethical stance:

·         Match strategy and culture

·         Focus on a few critical shifts in behavior

·         Honor the strengths of your existing culture

·         Integrate formal and informal interventions

·         Measure and monitor cultural evolution (business performance, critical behaviors, milestones and underlying beliefs, feelings and mind-sets)

“All too often, leaders see cultural initiatives as a last resort, except for top-down exhortations to change”, the authors caution.  “But cultural intervention can and should be an early priority—a way to clarify what your company is capable of, even as you refine your strategy”, the authors advise. “Simply put, rather than attacking the heart of your company, (focusing on cultural intervention) will be making the most of its positive forces as your culture evolves the right way.”

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