• Elizabeth Skidmore

Taming the 800 Pound Gorilla

A couple of weeks ago, I was sharing my experience about a client with a trusted colleague. After more than a year working with this organization, I stated how frustrated I was to see this organization repeat decisions and patterns of behavior that brought our consultancy to their organization in the first place. I thought they were enthusiastic about the plans we developed together to strengthen their organization. So why were they returning to old habits?

We often toss around the concept of organizational culture without understanding the significant role culture has on every aspect of organizational life. In her compelling book, The Fourth Factor: Managing Corporate Culture, author and consultant Linda Ford, compares organizational culture to an 800-pound gorilla that can do “pretty much whatever it wants.” Ford defines culture as an invisible agreement about “how things are done around here.” In other words, you can implement policies and procedures to change employees’ behavior and practice, but if the culture does not support these changes, they will not stick. In this case, we had created a plan for transforming strategy, programming, and staff retention, but did not fully understand the influence of the “gorilla” in keeping the status quo.

As we think about the challenges in our own organizations, we should consider what role organizational culture may have on advancing our mission and vision. Does the culture promote accountability? Does it reward teamwork? Does the culture provide a nurturing, fun, positive, and energetic workplace for staff members to thrive and grow? In order for leaders to effect and sustain change, understanding and managing organizational culture should be an important aspect of their strategy.

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