Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tug-of-War: Strategy vs Culture (Part 1)

Mission impact is driven by strategy. Yet there is very little written on the reality that strategy is driven by culture. As president of a small, independent college in mid-America who embraces the teachings of Rob Sheehan in Mission Impact, I'd like to share from the trenches why a nonprofit CEO should not overlook the cautionary adage, “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

When I became a college president in 2007, I stepped into the story of a 125 year-old college whose enrollment was at its lowest level in 40 years, had tired and weary facilities and landscaping, and struggled through serious operating deficits. Seven years later, enrollment is up 34%, $27 million has been invested in facilities and landscaping enhancements, and finances are stable.

Our Guest Blogger is Dr. Ed Leonard, President of
Bethany College, Lindsborg, KS.
The change that had to happen for these results to occur began with clear purpose and direction. However, after several years of slow build-up, the last two years have seen remarkable breakthrough. That occurred, I would suggest, because my senior leaders and I, with unequivocal board support, began assessing and building a new culture.

Our assessment revealed the current culture was a stagnant, "family-like" clan culture (think charming small college) and needed to be re-energized with more innovative and competitive elements to reach our preferred culture. That is, we had to build a new culture that lessened talking only about current mission to being guided by future vision, that eliminated normalizing mediocrity to expecting quality, that shifted the priority from loyalty to performance, and from thinking we're good to thinking we can be great.

To be more innovative, we launched several new entrepreneurial initiatives and supported skunkworks. To be more competitive, we established goals for key employees and held them accountable.

Even as the new culture started taking shape and we started seeing breakthrough results, tension and push back began to appear. How did we respond? Stay tuned for Part 2.

For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at www.SheehanNonprofitConsulting.com   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.

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