Culture Eats Strategy

Posted by Matthew Thomas

By Ron Mahurin, Senior Consultant

This post originally appeared here.

Ron_Mahurin_square_500-300x300-818264-edited(Yet Strategy – and Process – Still Matter)

There is some debate as to whether the late Peter Drucker actually ever said: “culture will eat strategy for breakfast, every time.” The phrase does not appear in any of the 35+ books he wrote. In any case, the phrase has become an oft-cited expression in the organizational change literature.

So what is organizational culture? What about our institutional cultures make it so difficult to navigate and make the changes that are required in today’s competitive landscape?

Organizational Culture

Organizational Culture is a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs, which governs how people behave in organizations. These shared values have a strong influence on the people in the organization and dictate how they dress, act, and perform their jobs. Every organization develops and maintains a unique culture, which provides guidelines and boundaries for the behavior of the members of the organization.

In higher education, organizational cultures are shaped by our history, location, our constituent groups, our community relationships, and so much more. In particular, the fierce independence of higher education, the norms of shared governance, the place and role of tenure mean that our ability to respond to and enact changes are exceedingly complex.

While leadership teams focus on strategic priorities and institutional goals, ignoring your culture and the role that informal power plays is a serious mistake. Positional leadership (read: title) is important, but we all know of individuals (and occasionally small groups) whether it be on our board, among the faculty and staff, alumni and donor, and even students who can exercise power both to the good and to the detriment of the organization.

Can we change our culture?

Should we even bother?

In conversations with presidents, board members, senior administrative leaders and faculty and staff, I’ve observed how eager people are to talk about the necessity of addressing institutional cultural issues. Not surprisingly, people understand and define their institution’s culture in a wide variety of ways.

Often, the conversation turns to how difficult that process of cultural change may be. I often find a degree of despair, a belief that there isn’t much that can be done to address change. In my judgment, that kind of response is frequently rooted in negative experiences in the past or a fear of the unknown. There is that unspoken conviction that this kind of work takes too much time and it won’t make a difference in the end.

Shifting our attention as leaders to working on questions of culture requires discipline, commitment, and a willingness to look outside the institution for help. When working on strategic issues, the temptation will likely be to push these larger cultural issues to the side, hoping that if we meet our strategic goals and objectives, these issues will largely resolve themselves.

Questions to Consider:

What is our organizational culture? How do we develop our strategies and resources to shape that culture in ways that strengthen the institution?

Don’t procrastinate. Don’t assume that the tension will go away on its own. There’s too much at stake.

To hope for change without truly identifying and addressing culture will almost certainly mean that Drucker was right:

Your strategic goals and tactical objectives will be eaten by that culture.

Interested in talking more?

Let’s start a conversation together.

Ron Mahurin

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Topics: process consulting

Why Organizational Design? Why Process Consulting?

Posted by Matthew Thomas

As a consultant, I am constantly aware of the need to polish my elevator speech for people I have just met. I say, elevator speech, but it's really elevator speeches. I think I have about four, and I pull those different speeches out depending on my assumed context.

matthew-thomas-2Sometimes I give the most generic answer, such as when I am on an airplane or in a waiting room: "I design financial strategy for businesses and non-profits." Other times, I use a contextual answer, such as at a conference with a particular demographic: "I help organizations like the ones represented here design healthy financial processes and strategy." Still other times, I just say, "I design processes for organizations to help them achieve their goals - particularly around finances." Rarely, I use the most direct, "I am a process consultant working in organizational design."

I have found that most people get confused or hung up on the terms "organizational design" and "process consulting." These two terms are at the core of what I do, but, as descriptive as they are, their definitions are not clear enough in the general population to make them reliably useable. And as circumlocution is antithetical to good elevator speech-making, and the specifics of the disciplines are often technical, and, well, jargon-y, this presents a challenge. 

Organizational Design is a process of developing the right structures, people, measurements, processes, and strategy to achieve business goals, non-profit mission or religious purpose. Good designers work at the intersection of strategy and implementation to assist enterprise leaders in building and connecting these components for success, as measured by the organization's end goals and sense of purpose. Designers see the organization as a means to other ends, and not as an end in itself.

Process Consultation, as applied to organizational design, introduces the consultant into an organizational system to facilitate a process of moving toward desired, stated ends. Process consultation is often useful where the outcomes of a decision are yet to be decided, but the process of making a decision is complex. Moreover, process consultation is ideally suited to adaptive change scenarios, where an organization, its leaders, and often the consultant must engage in new learning and then apply that learning to achieve the organization's goals. 

So why do I do organizational design? Why do I do process consulting? 

I do organizational design because I believe that many enterprises, be they businesses, non-profits, or religious groups, have greater capacity to achieve their goals and a much greater capacity to make the world a better place than they are currently able to because their organizational structures, culture, metrics and strategy prevent them from doing so. I desire to see organizations and their leaders achieve their full potential while making the world better for it. I am fascinated with how strategy interacts with idea generation, how learning is required for adapting to new conditions, and how different aspects of an organization interconnect to create the situation it finds itself in. 

I do organizational design through process consulting because I believe that most organizational issues are deeper than what a single product can provide an answer to. Enterprises that find themselves stuck in achieving their ends often require a process design more than a product design to achieve their goals. This process orientation helps enterprises make more solid and confident decisions and achieve the overall ends of healthy interaction both internally and externally. 

As stated on the Design Group International About page, "Design Group International is a home for experienced organizational leaders who practice the craft of process consulting." We are constantly seeking to expand our network of expert consultants and providers to provide deeper and broader range of services, wisdom, learning and results to our clients. 

If you think this might be you, click the button below to begin exploring process consultation work through Design Group International. 

I think Design Group International might be for me. Let's talk!

For more detail about the work I do through Design Group International, visit my Consultant page.

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Topics: process consulting, Process consultation and design, Matthew Thomas, Design Group International

Process Consulting: What I've Been Reading

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Process Consulting, booksAs the year draws to a close, I’d like to share with you a bit of what I’ve been reading (or re-reading) lately that might be of interest to Sustainable Vision readers.

  1. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and Your World. Heifetz, Ronald, Alexander Grashow, Marty Linksy. (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2009). 326 Pages. A must-read for anyone who is interested in leading change in any organization or community. Adaptive change is the type of change that doesn’t merely involve technical fixes – changes that can be managed by “making adjustments.” Adaptive change is change that requires the change leader and the organization to learn something new, and implement that new learning, so that it may thrive. This book is an essential guide for anyone in the transformation business.
  2. [Re-read #1]: Getting Naked: A business fable about shedding the three fears that sabotage client loyalty. Lencioni, Patrick. (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2010). 220 Pages. In a classic “leadership fable,” Lencioni walks through the three fears that service-minded professionals face: Fear of losing the business, Fear of being embarrassed, and Fear of feeling inferior. He counters these three fears with twelve practices that create healthy professional-client relationships. I recommend consultants and other professionals in service-oriented organizations (re)read this book annually, until it is in your blood.
  3. [Re-read #2]: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. Lencioni, Patrick. (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2002). 229 Pages. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team are everywhere. In this “leadership fable,” Lencioni artfully outlines the five dysfunctions, and how their symptoms show up, and how to overcome them. Another recommended regular re-read.
  4. What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures. Gladwell, Malcolm. (New York: Back Bay Books, 2009). 410 Pages. An anthology of Gladwell’s essays from The New Yorker, the author of The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers offers insights into subjects like the difference between choking and panicking, why we equate giftedness with precociousness, how to solve chronic homelessness, and of course, why there are so many kinds of mustard but only one kind of catsup – a topic of great culinary import. This book opens up insights to getting at the “ordinary” from an extraordinary angle. The mix of journalism, psychology, and human interest form a compelling thread throughout the anthology and helps the reader see “normal” differently.
  5. The Ministry of Development: An Introduction to Stewardship and Development for Christian Ministries, Churches, and Non-Profit Organizations, Revised & Updated. Frank, John R. (Indianapolis, IN: Dog Ear Publishing / Design Group International, 2010). 127 Pages. Published by Design Group International, Dr. John R. Frank offers this book on development basics to those just getting in to the field. He reminds readers frequently that development and stewardship are about donors’ hearts, not solely about dollars raised.

Why not pick up one of these books in the New Year?

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Topics: process consulting, Matthew Thomas, Design Group International

A Consultant’s Thanksgiving: Reflections on Process Consulting

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Thanksgiving TurkeyOn this day, we give thanks:

We give thanks:

 for learning experiences we never wanted to have but have benefitted from beyond anything we could have planned;

We give thanks:

 for colleagues who work alongside us with diligent integrity;

We give thanks:

 for clients who pushed us to learn something new in order to help them more effectively;

We give thanks:

 for the work we turned down so that someone more skilled and effective in that particular task or objective could give greater skill and excellence to the situation than we could have;

We give thanks:

 for work that ignites our passion and sense of purpose from which we make a living;

We give thanks:

 for someone else’s passing thought or off-the-wall idea that jolted our thinking off of its normal track to give us insight into how to solve something that confounded us;

We give thanks:

 for the opportunity to gather this day with family and friends where food is plentiful and company pleasant;

For all these things, and so much more, we give thanks:

 to the Creator, Sustainer and Provider of all good things. (Amen.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Tao of Action-ReflectionA primer on

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Topics: process consulting, Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, consultant

Organizational Development: When Cutting Expenses isn't the Solution

Posted by Matthew Thomas


When Cutting Expenses Isn’t the Solution

Deficits: at a certain point, cutting expenses isn’t the solution. Cutting expenses to meet income while maintaining the same organizational structure and model for staffing, programs and buildings will cause the organizational mission to be compromised after a certain amount of cuts. Moreover, the organizational stress of “death by a thousand cuts” will strain all aspects of organizational life, as people begin to ask, “Who is next?” It just ends up smelling of death.

matthew thomas, cost-cutting, design group internationalSo what to do? Wise, fiscally prudent leaders know that deficits can’t last forever. In organizations with net worth rather than net debt, the strategic use of assets will create the space to make the changes necessary to get finances back on track.

That strategic asset use could include:

  • A Donor Capacity and/or Constituency Assessment to see what additional funds may be available to the organization. If you don’t know to ask, it’s less likely you will receive. It just may require you to ask people you never thought to ask in ways you never thought to ask for things you never thought to ask for.
  • Development of a new organizational model with different governance, staffing, and program structures and different facility needs.
  • Developing and nurturing partnerships with like-minded organizations for shared work in common causes.
  • Developing a for-profit wing of the organization that takes the organization’s expertise and passion and uses it to fund the organization through the sale of products and services.

All of these approaches are adaptive in nature and require innovative thinking – but base results in how an organization can begin to thrive and grow rather than preserve what it has.

-Matthew Thomas

matthew thomas, design group international

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Topics: process design, process consulting, nonprofit leadership, organizational development consulting, Matthew Thomas, Design Group International

Use of Restricted Income

Posted by Matthew Thomas


Use of Restricted Income

Many non-profit and faith-based sector organizations have revenue that comes from a variety of sources: some donated with no restrictions for its use, other revenue with restrictions for particular programs or initiatives. Most organizations do not take full fiscal advantage of their restricted funds within their restricted parameters.

restricted income, matthew thomasOrganizations should take note of what the restrictions are and what they are not: in many cases, restricted program funds are not item-specific (yes, sometimes they are, but not usually). In most cases, organizations neglect to calculate in the portion of facility costs (with accompanying custodial costs) and the use of paid staff for the program funded through restricted revenue. Unless otherwise prohibited by the restrictions, these things are typically fair game to be expenses charged against restricted revenue.

Why would an organization want to do this? Using restricted funds in this way frees up unrestricted revenues to be used in other ways to maintain or expand the reach of the organization. Moreover, establishing the building and staff costs of a program invites the organization to apply for larger and broader grants to fund the program down the road, since they aren’t just looking for the bare minimum items. This helps to keep the organization spry and innovative, and frees unrestricted revenues to fund initiatives not supported by restricted revenues or even start up new programs in the middle of a budget cycle as needs arise, since the funds are available.

-Matthew M. Thomas

Matthew Thomas

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Topics: process consulting, organizational development consulting, Matthew Thomas, restricted income, sustainable vision, Design Group International

Use of Restricted Reserves

Posted by Matthew Thomas


Use of Restricted Reserves

Organizations often come to me in fiscal difficulty with the need to spend some of their reserves in order to deal with budget deficits or shortfalls. In many cases, these organizations have both unrestricted reserves and restricted reserves – money that can only be spent under certain conditions. In most cases, the restrictions on the funds are designed for the organization to use the funds for a certain purpose that is a subset or portion of the organization’s larger purpose and goals.

In these cases, innovative organizations do their best to use their restricted funds first: this way, they have fulfilled the obligations on the money up front, within its intended purpose, leaving the organization with more of its unrestricted money for future use – either to be expended more generally if the crisis deepens, or to be used as seed funds for innovation, outreach, research and development. This gives greater flexibility and room to maneuver in the long term.

restricted reserve, design group internationalNon-innovative organizations tend to use their restricted funds last: thus ensuring that certain endowed programs will be maintained long into the future, even at the expense of new, creative or innovative programs and/or services, or, even more likely, at the expense of the organization’s greater purpose and even its health. This approach gives dramatically less flexibility and reduces potential stability in the long term, even though it looks (from some angles, at least) as the most stable approach.

Deficits can come from a variety of different factors, not the least of which is a long-term crisis of vision. Nevertheless, even in a fiscal crisis brought on by lack of vision, an organization can choose innovation over stagnation by using its restricted reserves proactively, thus creating space for the renewal of vision and development of new programs, products and services that fulfill the greater purpose of the organization.

-Matthew M. Thomas

Matthew Thomas, Design Group International

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Topics: process design, process consulting, Matthew Thomas, Organizational Development. effective nonprofit ma, Design Group International