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The Culture, Strategy Connection

April 2014 – Vol: 37 No. 4
by Mary Auestad Arnold

From the editor

Photo of CUES' Editor/Publisher Mary Auestad ArnoldIt goes without saying that business strategy is a top concern for most leaders. The same cannot be said about organizational culture. While most would agree a positive culture is nice to have, tending it doesn’t draw the sense of urgency that a strategy session would.

This is wrong-headed, according to Edgar Schein, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, who submits that culture and strategy can’t be separated. “… In most organizations, strategic thinking is deeply colored by spoken and unspoken assumptions about who [these organizations] are and what their mission is.”

Put another way, if culture doesn’t support the strategy, it’s much less likely to succeed—and may well fail. That’s what Mark Fields, now chief operating officer of Ford Motor Company, believed when he popularized the phrase “culture eats strategy for lunch” in 2006 as he worked to lead the foundering company, via its Way Forward initiative, back to profitability.

In this issue, we focus on culture from two standpoints: a big-picture view for the board and CEO in our cover story, “A Matter of Culture,” and a more in-the-trenches look at how one credit union is strengthening its culture after a five-year growth spurt added a large influx of employees, in “Culture Fix.”

Cover story author Michael Daigneault, CCD, has observed during his work as a governance consultant that it is often difficult for boards to recognize their credit unions’ culture—the unconscious beliefs and assumptions that have been guiding their decision-making—because they are so close to it. Surfacing those beliefs and identifying which are still helpful to the organization is the first step in developing a productive culture, writes Daigneault, CEO of Quantum Governance L3C, a CUES strategic partner.

You’ll find ideas on how to do this, plus 10 elements of an effective culture in this article.

Leaders of $3 billion Lake Michigan Credit Union, Grand Rapids, Mich., realized its culture had been “diluted” when “even longer-term staff didn’t truly know how to define the … culture,” writes Don Bratt, CSME, in our culture case study. Besides growing organically, the CU had merged in another credit union and purchased an insurance agency.

In the article, Bratt, the CU’s SVP/marketing, explains each step of the culture project, including results to-date at about the half-way point. “With culture, the process is never really finished,” he notes. “It’s an ongoing, ‘living process’ that grows and strengthens over time.” Check it out here.

Mary Auestad Arnold
Editor and Publisher

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