Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

“Breakfast for four” guest post Garrett Gitchell (“Culture eats Strategy for breakfast” series Part 4)

This is the third guest post in the summer series “Culture eats Strategy”. This one is from an experienced change management leader, Garrett Gitchell President of Vision to Work, Inc.  One of the things I have come to respect, and look forward to, in Garrett’s perspectives, is his willingness to poke the elephant in the room.

Culture, according to Webster, is:

“The set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.”

 Strategy gives us a choice between: a battle definition, an evolutionary meaning or one which uses “stratagems” in its wording- denoting schemes, tricks and artifices of deception.

Breakfast just got interesting.

Culture develops with time.

 Inputs tweak culture (in the corporate sense, think M & A). With the tweaks new culture appears. Culture, despite ‘group think’ to the contrary, is malleable. In fact it is influencable. For example, in the change arena, adding social media or video conferencing can change the way people interact (which influences attitudes and values). 

In an opposite sense, taking something away can also form new culture. Best example? Consider the outcomes when a founder CEO retires.  Now think of the culture that would result from the removal (not replacement) of a performance management system. People would actually be free to work together toward goals. 

Culture does not challenge change. People do. They do it because structure and process give them the opportunity to. Done enough times that challenging becomes cultural. (Models and approaches to change that acknowledge challenge and resistance to specific change as commonplace do not help). Resistance is, in fact, one way TO change culture. Can you really be sure resistance is because of a specific change? Perhaps change is just the catalyst for calling out poor structure or process?

 Add strategy to the mix.

 Now we can do battle, evolve or craft a sneaky move to end states (the outcome of the strategy/vision- defined and described through the perspectives of different stakeholders).

 End states, our chance to add some civility to this meal.

 End states show what is missing and what can be carried forward (skills, competencies, people and yes culture) and what needs to be added and/or developed (same list). By extension a good strategy must determine what the culture would be for that end state. If it is not the same as the present (hint: of course it is not- disturbing the status quo IS change) then some inputs may be needed to mold new culture.

 Good strategy, especially for big change, can effectively eliminate culture (as it was).

 Of course the CURRENT culture will challenge any change in some way. That current culture, because of the challenge, will begin to change and adapt.

 Go back up to our culture definition, it is “practices” that will get in the way of strategy. A few practices that I find hard to define as culture anymore since they are so common:

  • Buck passing
  • Organic decision making
  • Selfish approaches to task accomplishments
  • Committees
  • Multiple levels of approval

 People, like culture, can be surprisingly flexible, strategy is at the beginning so can be defined.

Beware the elephants in the room- structure and process.  They frequently take their breakfast of strategy and culture. Culture is the result of the two (so tweaking either will change culture) and strategy needs all three- structure, process and culture- to succeed (plus people of course).

 Our guests, structure and process, should perhaps receive a little more attention at this breakfast.

Garrett is an outstanding speaker and consultant.  He runs his own firm in the San Francisco Bay Area, Vision to Work, and also writes a blog challenging us all to think differently about issues around change – More about Garrett on his website and blog here and you can find Garrett on LinkedIn here.

If you have a Strategy that is a business imperative and would like to discuss the approaches we have implemented successfully for other Fortune 100 companies it would be a pleasure to connect – you can reach me at

More posts coming on this topic – subscribe above left so you don’t miss any.

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