Monday, July 22, 2013

Make the Most of Your Organization’s Culture

By Virgil Carter
There’s a saying in non-profit organizational leadership to the effect of “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.  “This is the way we do things”, is just another way of defining organizational culture.  For example, culture can perpetuate outmoded and ineffective programs for years, simply because “this is the way we do things”!  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 often 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 direction and tactics.
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…”, say the authors.  “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.
It’s usually much more productive to use existing culture in support of important leadership initiatives than to challenge and attempt to change the culture with “new” ideas.
For the entire S+A article, see

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