A charity’s culture is fundamental to its strategy

Charlotte Lamb

As the famous saying goes, usually attributed to Peter Drucker, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. A charity’s culture can undermine or reinforce its strategyand by extension its ability to deliver impact. Some charities who adapted quickly to the pandemic often cite their organisational culture as enabling them to do this. Its safe to say it matters a lot.  

Yet despite its importance, we often don’t give our organisational culture enough thought. The sort of organisational culture we want to foster should be explicit and foundational to our strategy. Nurturing it should be a priority for implementation. 

Our shared beliefs, norms, and assumptions

Organisational culture is the collection of unwritten assumptions, shared beliefs, and accepted norms within an organisation. Click To Tweet

For example, a good learning culture is created by an accepted norm of talking about successes and failures and an assumption that learning from this will lead to change in what the organisation is doing. This makes using evaluation data in strategic decision making much more likely.  

Similarly, a culture that prioritises service users above all else is based on a shared belief and an unwritten assumption that this principle will guide every decisionfrom big strategy decisions to the operational choices we make every day. 

There isn’t a universal ‘good’ or ‘bad’ culture, but there is a culture that will support your strategy. If you want to be adaptive then you might need a culture that supports learning and quick decisionmaking. If you want to try new approaches or explore new territory then you might need a culture in which failure is accepted, talked about and learnt from, so that you can be bold enough to try new things and make the most from these new experiences.  

But these cultures don’t appear on their own, they need to be nurtured through deliberate action.  

Creating a culture that supports your strategy

When you set your strategy, make it explicit what type of culture you want to build, and set out the steps to achieving this in your strategic plan. Charities should ask: 

  • What sort of organisational culture do we need to implement this strategy?   
  • What will staff and volunteers need to say, think and do? How can we encourage this? 
  • Are there elements of our current organisational culture that will hold this strategy back? How can we change them? 

Who is already doing this well?

Have you seen an example of this done well? We’re keen to hear your thoughts on the importance of culture in strategy implementation. How can charities be supported to foster impactful cultures? 

We’d love to know what you think in response to these questions, comment below with your thoughts, ideas and what else we should be asking…

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