Culture by Design

More than just Guidelines and Mantras

Culture is the unique and shared collection of beliefs that are practiced every day.

To design culture is to chart a course for changing the way it behaves and to deliberately practice it every day.


John Kotter, Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School, had something interesting to say about culture change and why leadership often fails to get to their exact destination:

The central issue is never strategy, structure, or systems. The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people.

The paradox is that while no template exists for changing culture, many clues in both science and business literature that the missing link is through behavior change.

Nonprofits can start by asking big tough questions about their culture and where their true capabilities really stand:

  • 1. When it comes to adjusting to change along the way, what process is in place to help leaders and staff do this?
  • 2. What kind of culture do you need today to start doing the things you want in the future?
  • 3. Does it really value curiosity, creativity, and collaboration, experimentation, small bets? Or is it just mission speak and wordsmithing?
  • 4. What rules and traditions might have outlived their purpose? Or where might there need to be more flexibility?
  • 5. What engines of continuous learning do you have running? Or will have running?

It's up to leaders what new ideals they'd like to work up to. Culture is what's acted out every day as a collective, not said or believed.

Change with new frames, not facts

Change efforts require helping people discover new solutions and pathways that influence emotions, not just thoughts, says Kotter in "Change of Die."

This makes sense as much of the resistence to change relies on changing the frame of mind, or "The mental structures that shape the way we see the world." This is why facts, ideas, and platitudes on leadership alone rarely work.

Real efforts require helping nonprofits to actively reframe new questions that are emotionally resonant.

The central issue is never strategy, structure, or systems. The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people.

- John Kotter, Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School (via Fast Company)

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