Organizational Culture

Over the years I’ve participated in a number of external organizational reviews (for academic libraries, public libraries, and IT divisions). While all organizations are truly different, even unique, there are two characteristics that almost always emerged as key issues during these assessments:

  1. Communication
  2. Culture

I’m going to come back to “communication” in a future post. For today it’s about culture.

“Culture” is one of those things everyone thinks is a problem …. and everyone has a different answer to “fix”. And there’s the rub …. “fix”. You don’t fix culture, you nurture the culture you want (or that’s needed). Remember  Peter Drucker:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

But let’s be clear about this, culture is a strategic element of a successful organization. It doesn’t “just happen.” It is organic but it’s managed. A tilled garden.

I’m also reminded that we often don’t see organizational cultures going bad when we are sitting inside them. What Hemingway said about how you go bankrupt is also true about how organizations develop a dysfunctional culture:

Gradually, then suddenly.

So, what to do?

My thanks to Harvey Schachter (Globe and Mail) for pointing me to the post by Katzenbach, von Post, and Thomas “The Critical Few: Components of a Truly Effective Culture” in strategy+business. This is an excellent, pragmatic approach with three key messages:

1. identify and promote critical behaviours: focus on a few core behaviours that will reflect and encourage a new cultural direction.

2. honour the existing culture: select and nurture the positive traits from the current culture that will connect the past to the future.

3. focus on the critical informal leaders: learn from these people how an emerging culture will look and feel. They are your role models, not your ambassadors.

Excellent strategies; required reading.


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