(Organizational) culture eats strategy for breakfast
Debbie’s Executive Blog Post #3
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. I think I may have heard that phrase in the past and just buried it in my subconscious. However, the first time I heard the phrase and it really stuck with me was in October 2020 when speaking with a very important stakeholder. She knew that organizational change was important to me as the new Executive Director at CCGSD and was very open to sharing her external perspectives with me. “If you want to fix something, you want to know where to start,” she added. She was right.
The vast majority of my onboarding process over the last 8 months has involved gathering perspectives like this from current and former staff, volunteers, members of our Board of Directors, community members, and representatives from other 2SLGBTQ+ organizations in Ottawa and across the country. This “listening tour”, thanks to the true honesty of those I spoke with, has all concluded on one thing: any attempts at implementing strategy at CCGSD must be accompanied by long-lasting cultural change at the organization in order for it to work.
Okay, cool. Sounds easy, right?
There is a lot to be said about Black women brought into leadership roles to “fix” things.
We will save that conversation for another blog post.
What has been the most intimidating part of being part of this new role is seeing how easy it is for people (and no fault of their own) to associate that change-making with one person. The person who is going to save everything and fix the issues all on their own. In some ways, I have even internalized this! It can put a LOT of pressure on a person and is scary especially considering the reality of the “glass cliff” has on the mental health of women of colour in new leadership roles. So, to avoid the inevitable burnout that comes with this very unsustainable model, I have made it a point to let my staff and Board know that I am not working on this project of change alone.
Motivating Behavioural Change Does Start at the Top
This saw this Tweet and immediately thought, “Damn, this person is spitting some hot fire!”
“Leadership culture is important to building organizational culture. Leadership culture is how leaders interact with one another and their team members. It’s the way leaders operate, communicate, and make decisions. And it’s about the everyday working environment: their behaviours, interactions, beliefs, and values.” – O.C. Tanner
In my first blog post, I mentioned that building a feminist future at the organization requires a swift change in our internal culture and ways of working. In trying to practice feminist leadership, I had to make it a priority to both actively listen and act on the feedback of staff and community. In order to implement the suggestions that work within the limits of our organization, we need a strategy. In order for that strategy to be measurable and sustainable, we need organizational behaviour change. In order for the cultural change, we need…leadership to put on their big person pants and lead by example.
“A broken culture can be the byproduct of poor leadership.”
I have been learning a lot of lessons about leadership and change. One important lesson I learned was that motivating change requires leaders to not ignore the inefficient or ineffective obstacles getting in the way of change happening. Sometimes simply removing the obstacles is a better way at achieving behavioural change: improving policies, not avoiding difficult conversations, acknowledging the constraints that we have created or ignored. Another lesson I learned from Robert Melloy, PhD, is that change requires purpose (we need goals and staff investment) and change means different things to each of us (you need to reflect different people’s needs and wants). Leaders need to be committed to doing this work of motivating change by also taking accountability in where things failed in the past and recently.
I am by no means perfect, but am committed to being a leader who motivates change through her behaviour. This change in leadership does not only rest with me. I have a strategic role as Executive Director, but every single person who makes up CCGSD owns a share in fostering this change from as far up as the Board level to the staff level. Those in leadership roles at CCGSD are collaborating more than ever to ensure that this cultural change not only happens but that it is long lasting.
Where Does Change Take Us from Here?
I am really excited about what’s to come at CCGSD!
With the upcoming fiscal year quickly approaching we are taking the time to Rest, Reflect, and Rebuild. We are prioritizing what matters to us most and taking the time to properly plan with measurable goals, outcomes, and metrics inspired the Board of Directors retreat and the upcoming staff retreat in April.
Remember the organizational consultant I mentioned in my first blog? Well, he finalized interviews with staff in preparation for his workshop during our staff retreat! His session will consist of:
- A celebration of all the current strengths of the organization by naming, appreciating and reinforcing what is working well
- A review of the challenges and opportunities (gaps) through small group and plenary discussions to understand them at a deeper level
- Collectively plotting the challenges on an impact/effort matrix
- Voting on the challenge or opportunity staff and management most wish to tackle first
The most exciting thing about this session with the org change consultant is that CCGSD staff will be working on identifying what to work on together. This is pretty monumental for us because we’re implementing more collaborative-centric work environments in all facets of our work.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast. It also eats strategy for lunch and dinner. It nibbles on it during a snack break (am I taking the analogy too far yet? Lol).
Strategy is top of mind more than ever at CCGSD and it’s being reflected in our new collaborative style. We are changing our organization’s culture and at the same time, we are building a strategy to guide our work immediately and long-term. Throughout the organization, we are changing the ways we communicate with each other and developing plans to guide our work for the upcoming fiscal year. We are taking on this work together and making the feminist future for CCGSD a reality more each day.
Things are starting to feel different…in a good way.
As one of our staff members put it, it’s a “breath of fresh air”.