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Culture Change by Christine Talbot

Christian Leadership AllianceCulture change is where new strategy starts.

By Christine Talbot –

Many versions of the following maxim all point to the same caution for leaders implementing strategy and change.

“Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

Do not underestimate the power of the existing culture — practices and values that underlie the organization and to which staff members consciously and unconsciously adhere. Unfortunately, there is a very high failure rate for organizational change initiatives, which most often fall short of their intended outcomes. This further reinforces caution.

So, how can leaders guide their organizations through strategy changes that require changes in culture?

Admit assumptions about culture and change.

Most leaders lean towards one reaction or another when planning change — “that culture thing is too ambiguous; it can’t be addressed” or “it’s my biggest worry and fear.” Like any authentic basis for personal change, a sober acknowledgement of underlying beliefs is a necessary early step. If you believe that culture just can’t be reckoned with, then you will be at risk to undermanage the role of the current culture to trump change. If you are fearful, it may paralyze the best of your leadership through the cultural aspects of the change. What do you believe about addressing culture change as you plan for strategy change?

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ

~1 Pet. 1:13, ESV

Secure a realistic assessment.

One of the best ways to gain this assessment of the cultural norms in your organizations is to identify and engage trusted truth tellers, applying the wisdom of the Proverb:

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.

~Proverbs 15:22

Advisers who have the ability and courage to articulate the culture and project how it will impact your plans are critical to your planning. They may be two or three layers deep in the organization. Whether a focus group, or informal conversation with those whom you already have an established relationship, these astute individuals can provide the needed assessment. There are also change management tools that accomplish a formal assessment.

  Choose wisely areas for culture change.

When tackling culture change, go for the highest impact levers of change, while preserving the cultural aspects that support your core mission. What would be the most powerful cultural changes that could act as a catalyst for adoption of the strategy? For example, if you want to shift from an activity culture to a results culture, you might implement goal setting and performance feedback. If the diagnosis reveals that goals are treated as optional, with minimal leader accountability for goal and strategy alignment, you can begin to shift your culture by instituting a good process, implementing training and providing visible leadership for goal setting and feedback. God, who gives liberally, will provide the insights needed to identify such catalysts in your organization.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you

~James 1:5

Communicate  clearly what the change requires.

If there are aspects of your organization culture that must change to realize the benefits of the strategy change, then clearly call out those cultural characteristics in a manner provided in Ephesians.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

~Ephesians 4:15

Using a “from – to” and “so – that” set of statements is one way to provide clarity. For example, “we must move from operating in silos to operating as a unified group so that we create end-to-end solutions to improve the donor experience.”

The topic of addressing culture in order to make successful strategy change warrants the engagement of professionals with expertise in this area. No change plan can be considered complete until the culture change lens is applied.


Christine Talbot is the senior vice president of human resources for World Vision U.S. This post is an excerpt from her article that appeared in the 2016 Fall edition of Outcomes magazine.

2016.OutcomesAOIt is almost time for the Fall Outcomes Academy – Online to begin. Registration is open through September 26 and classes start October 3, 2016. These ten-week modules will build  your expertise and sharpen your skills. Be sure to check out what is being offered this quarter:


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