Culture trumps strategy? Maybe it is more of an alignment issue

culture1It is a basic truism for some organizational development professionals that “Culture trumps strategy“. In the last few months, this expression has been front and center in my mind. I guess the reason it bothers me is because of its implications, which is none of what I bring to the table as a non-profit and fundraising consultant matters unless the organization’s culture is ready to receive it and act upon it.
If the organization’s culture isn’t open to the change they wish to make, then the first order of business needs to be how to evolve culture in such a way that helps people embrace the impending strategies that will emanate from the desired initiative or plan.
So, does culture really trump strategy or that just a bunch of hooey? When I struggle with things, I usually Google it. So It did. And this is what I found:

Confusing? I know. But I really liked what Mike Myatt said on May 29, 2012 in his article appearing in Forbes titled “Culture vs. Strategy – What’s More Important?”

“Put simply, a corporation’s strategy that ignores, or only pays lip service to culture, will be the beneficiary of the toxic environment they deserve.”

I also liked what what I read in the Switch & Shift article when it comes to synergy between many organizational forces:

“Culture, strategy, leadership, branding, innovation, customer orientation and employee centricity must co-exist.”

I think I like this last quotation because it provides me with an idea of how organizational culture can be changed. In other words, you need to work intentionally with all of these organizational threads to weave your organization’s tapestry we call “organizational culture“. I think this idea is best fleshed out in Steve Denning’s Forbes article titled “How Do You Change An Organizational Culture“.
culture2I’ll stop Googling now. Because I think I get it now.
If your non-profit organization wants to raise money by implementing private sector philanthropy strategies, then you better have a “Culture of Philanthropy” in place first. If you don’t, then there will be a ton of resistance from every corner of your organization.
Sorry for such an egg-headed post today. I’m obviously struggling with something in my professional life and it spilled out into the blog this morning.
Do you have a good handle on your non-profit organization’s:

  • culture
  • leadership
  • strategies
  • employees
  • donors
  • clients
  • brand

If so, how do you know that you do? And more importantly, how are you aligning all of these things as your organization’s leader?
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Organizational Development Fridays are back!

Fridays at DonorDreams blog used to be called “Organizational Development Fridays” (aka OD Fridays). I would read a blog post from my favorite OD professional and blogger in the world — John Greco — and apply his message to something I’ve seen or experienced in the non-profit sector.
At the end of October, John announced to the world that he needed to take a break from blogging at “johnponders~ about life at work, mostly” because there is too much going on in his life right now. Fridays haven’t been the same around here since that announcement.
However, in the spirit of capacity building and organizational development, John recently agreed to let me re-blog the best of the best of his original posts. We decided that this wouldn’t be too repetitive based on WordPress analytics. Apparently, most DonorDreams readers only read my Friday posts and didn’t click-through to John’s originals. So, re-blogging John’s posts should be new and refreshing to many of you.
Organizational development is equally applicable to for-profits and non-profits alike. I encourage you to tune in every Friday, read John’s OD post, and think about how it applies to your non-profit agency. As always, I encourage you to then use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences because we can all learn from each other. Enjoy!

Don’t Climb That Pole!

By John Greco
Re-posted with permission from
Originally published on February 26, 2012

Four monkeys were put into a room.   In the center of the room was a tall pole with a bunch of bananas suspended from the top.  
monkey2One particularly hungry monkey eagerly scampered up the pole, intent on retrieving a banana.  Just as he reached out to grasp the banana, he was hit with a torrent of cold water from an overhead shower.  With a squeal, the monkey abandoned its quest and retreated down the pole. 
Each monkey attempted, in turn, to secure a banana.  Each received an equally chilly shower, and each scampered down without the prize. After repeated drenchings, the monkeys finally gave up on the bananas. 
With the primates thus conditioned, one of the original four was removed from the experiment and a new monkey added.  No sooner had this new, innocent monkey started up the pole his companions reached up and yanked the surprised creature back down.
After a few such aborted attempts, but without ever having received the cold shower, the new monkey stopped trying to get the bananas. He got the message: don’t climb that pole!
One by one, each of the original monkeys was replaced.  Each new monkey learned the same lesson: don’t climb that pole; none even got so far as a cold shower.  
Despite not experiencing the cold shower, and therefore not understanding precisely why pole climbing was discouraged, they all respected the well-established precedent. 
Even after the shower was removed, no monkey ventured up the pole …
[Author unknown, but greatly appreciated!  If you or anyone you know has a proprietary interest in this story please authenticate and I will be happy to credit, or remove, as appropriate.]

When we speak of a company’s culture, what do we mean?  To me culture refers to the values, norms, and patterns of behavior that groups of people adopt and/or develop as they work.  Or, more simply: “the way we do things around here.”
Where does culture come from?  I try to keep it simple: culture comes from what we learn and understand as being “normal” and/or important …
A more elaborate exploration would talk about the influence of the leader(s), how the values, biases, and preferences of influential leaders get translated into company or departmental policies and management practices, and how eventually they become commonplace in the fabric of the interactions of all employees.
monkey1We, like our monkey friends, become conditioned.  Don’t climb that pole! we learn, when we see what happens to those that do … Then we teach don’t climb that pole! to the newcomers we welcome into the organization, telling the story of what happened to our ambitious co-worker Moe when he climbed that pole it was like a cold shower stopped him right in his tracks! … We learn that we don’t need to climb the pole; we are growing sales and driving profits without climbing the pole; it over time becomes an afterthought, except of course to orient the new talent; and there comes a time when a newbie asks“Why don’t we climb the pole?”and we’re all kind of stumped “dunno; it’s just the way we do things around here!”
Culture is a curious thing; early on, it develops into a strong positive force, uniting people in the pursuit of common goals with normalized behaviors.  Frequently, however, this strength morphs into a weakness — changes in policies, processes, and practices become necessary as leaders push for increased results C’mon, people, we really need to climb that pole to make our revenue and profit goals this year!  but the culture pushes back Don’t climb that pole! insisting on preserving the current way of doing things “Geez, boss, we haven’t climbed that pole for 15 years and haven’t we been wildly successful?”
Of course you are now way ahead of me and considering the quite major implication of all of this … What if the monkeys we need to climb the pole to survive?  Would they we be able to overcome the conditioning?  Would they we change?  Would there be one brave monkey associate who would climb that pole?
So: are your customers increasing their expectations?  Are your competitors getting stronger, more aggressive?  As our government regulations get reformed and our vendors adopt different practices and the younger labor force holds different expectations and … and … to what extent do we need to change; to re-engineer processes and adapt existing practices; to learn new behaviors; to climb that pole!
john greco sig

The Chicago Cubs Convention through non-profit eyes: Part Two

cubs way3This last weekend I attended the Chicago Cubs Convention with my family.  As we drifted from session to session, I couldn’t help but see all sorts of blog themes and things that non-profit organizations could learn from this major league franchise. I will use the next few days to share a few of these observations and hopefully stimulate a few new ideas for you and your agency. In yesterday’s post, we talked about stewardship. Today, I thought we could talk about shared vision, values, and culture.

In many of the sessions, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to reference something called “The Cubs Way Guide“. They always described this guide as an organizational manual that describes what they believe and how they do things.  Here is how President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein described “The Cubs Way Guide” in February 2012 on the Cubs’ website:

“The Cubs’ way really boils down to the people — the players, obviously, but everyone, all the scouts and all the people in uniform in the Minor Leagues and the big leagues. For us to teach the game the right way, it’s more than words on the page. It comes down to how deep we dig to get connected to players to teach the game the right way, how much we care, how committed we are, how hard we work. There’s a lot that goes into this and building an organization.”

At Saturday’s convention, here are some of the phrases I heard people use to describe this manual and organizational resource:

  • It is a document that is a few inches thick.
  • It is what we believe as an organization.
  • It embodied the organization’s philosophy and approach.
  • It spells out how to prepare players for the big leagues.
  • It lays out for coaches at every level of the minor league and major league how to teach players how to play the game. Instruction can get as detailed as which foot hits the bag when players make a turn on the bases.
  • It lays out a vision and plan.

I walked away from each of these sessions wondering the same thing: “I wonder what such a manual might look like for a non-profit organization?

cubs way1After a few days of day dreaming about this topic, here are a few of my thoughts on what your organizational guide might contain:

  • Shared values
  • Shared vision
  • Code of ethics
  • Conflict of interest policies
  • Protocol on how to recruit community volunteers and prepare/position them for joining the board some day. (e.g. getting them involved in a committee, working a few pledge cards, etc)
  • Procedures on how to identify, cultivate, recruit, orient, train, rotate, recognize, and evaluate board volunteers.
  • Steps on how to hire new staff.
  • Rules on how to conduct outreach/recruitment of clients.
  • Etiquette on how to prepare for board meetings and committee meetings (e.g. agendas sent out a certain number of days before the meeting, meeting notes and action item memos going out a certain number of days after a meeting, elements of a productive board meeting, etc)
  • Code of behavior regarding how to engage, solicit and communicate with donors (e.g. Donor Bill of rights)

I suspect that I could make this list go on and on and on if I wanted.

If you started thinking to yourself when reading my list that you already have some of this in place at your organization, I suspect you are probably on to something. Some of this might already be included in your strategic plan, board development plan, resource development plan, stewardship plan, etc.

However, the genius of “The Cubs Way Guide” is:

  • It is all in one place, not in a series of documents sitting on a number of different book shelves.
  • It creates a central focus. It becomes the heartbeat of your organizational culture.
  • It is easy to reference.
  • It is easy to create training opportunities around it.

cubs way2

What are your thoughts about creating an organizational “How To Manual” for your non-profit organization? What would you include? Who would you involve in this project? What elements already exist that you might fold into such a manual? How would you use it to transform your organizational culture? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts because there is nothing new under the sun and we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847