Have you “the leader” ever tried to make a change in your organization that was contrary to your organization’s culture? Do you even know for sure what the key cultural ingredients of your organization are? Sooner or later you will have to change strategy or take on a major project that runs contrary to your organization’s culture. Changing culture means changing people, and that is always difficult and sometimes impossible. Peter Drucker, the late leadership and management guru of the 20th century said it best: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast every day.” Culture is always upstream rushing down upon you when you’re trying to make major strategy or organizational changes. Many times, those changes will one day come back and reverse themselves if not done with the culture in mind.
In the early nineties, the Air Force attempted to reorganize flight line maintenance. It combined the organizational maintenance squadrons with the flying squadrons and the flying squadron commander had responsibilities not only for flying operations but also for on-equipment flight line maintenance where aircraft were made ready for flight. On the surface, this change made sense because it placed the warfighter flying squadron commander in charge of getting the aircraft into the fight. But for years separate organizational maintenance squadrons with a commander trained in the many aspects of aircraft maintenance was responsible for making aircraft ready to fly. The new arrangement had a squadron maintenance officer, but the one in charge was always a flying officer with little or no aircraft maintenance experience. This change turned the culture upside down and the whole idea became “breakfast” and didn’t stand over time. Since then, there have been many changes in Air Force maintenance, but today maintainers are responsible for maintenance and flyers, well they fly and fight.
As Executive Director for Officer’s Christian Fellowship, a ministry to the military generally staffed by retired officers and supported by many volunteers, I had to initiate a major fund-raising campaign to rebuild the two OCF conference centers. Fundraising IS NOT part of the military culture and it was not ingrained in OCF, at least at the magnitude necessary for this campaign. Nobody, including me “the leader” looked forward to asking people for money, that is until I realized it was not about money at all, but about ministering to people.
This effort succeeded for two reasons. First, there were inspired individuals, part of the OCF governing body (the Council), willing to take the chance and set the example by making some major contributions. Then others, volunteers and field staff in the organization, began to step forward and organize fund-raising events. Then more people began to catch the vision and eventually, the OCF Growing and Building Campaign became a success.
Second, behind this change in culture was a vision, and this vision came first and foremost, through many dedicated to prayer and a hope that was grounded in faith. The apostle Paul said, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:25) People listened, heard, and got “in step.” It was through the Holy Spirit that people knew that this project was not the idea of mere mortals but was inspired by the Lord. There is story after story in this campaign where only the Lord could have provided the results to overcome cultural barriers and what many thought from the beginning, “was a hill too steep to climb.” And today, OCF has two beautiful rebuilt conference centers and an established office of development that has become part of the ministry’s culture. And who became the beneficiaries of this vision and cultural change, thousands of young military people and families “equipped for Christ-like service . . . of faith, family, and profession.”
If you want to learn the complete story of how a culture was changed and how the Lord produced results that no one expected, get my book, GROWING AND BUILDING, Faith, Prayer, and Leadership. You’ll find it at Growingandbuilding.com, both printed and eBook.