Iceberg, dead ahead!
In this era, public service organizations devote significant time and energy to identifying and developing mission and vision statements. They also devote time to creating strategic plans that seek to translate those statements into goals and practices. What frequently proves to be the biggest barrier to carrying this out successfully, especially when the plan represents a change in the direction of the agency, is culture.
As Peter Drucker said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Translation – all the time and resources in the world devoted to creating and implanting a “strategic plan” will founder on the rocks and shoals of cultures that are change-resistant. The “informal” inner core of an organization is the values, attitudes, beliefs and shared (or unshared) assumptions of its members. Strategy is the artifact applied to the core, successfully, or not.
In many cases, these “change-resistant” inner cores are either individuals or positions that carry influence easily equivalent to the “leadership”. Whether the leadership is aware of what lurks below the surface will go a long way toward determining the fate of “change”.
So, who are these “gatekeepers?” They are not on the org chart. However, they represent a competing source of information that constantly tests the members to determine whose information will be trusted. Denying their existence is not an option any more than trying to “control” the informal flow of information. It makes sense that leadership understand and whenever possible, be a player in the informal as well as the formal.
In the police world, the cliché of the first conversation between the rookie fresh out of the academy and the streetwise veteran training officer has long been accepted as fact by most film and television writers. “Forget everything you learned, kid!” In the corporate world, the equivalent is the “translator” who rushes around to everyone to explain that the bosses “really meant” with their latest release of information.
The net effect is that every time a “critical” piece of information is passed, there are forces, processes, and cultures that exist which may act to counter the effort, out of concern, equality, contrariness, or simply plain old amusement.
So, regardless of your formal place in your organization, can you honestly evaluate your informal place? Do you believe your organization means what it says? Do you believe change is best initiated when you want to and not when you have to? Do you believe your organization and those within it are guided by principle as much or more so than policy or strategy? Does your culture consist of ethical leadership, transparency, optimism, positivity, honesty, and most importantly, a shared belief that it does, from the bottom up? Or does your culture provide for a “shadow government” in which parallel tracks of belief and assumptions exist side by side, to the blissful ignorance of the strategy makers?