Hey Culture Change Fans, Got the Playbook?

Written by Associations Catalyzing Entrepreneurship on August 2, 2018

Editor’s Note: Associations Catalyzing Entrepreneurship (ACE) is a group made up of association executives and stakeholders who think outside the association box about the future. They have conversations about an entrepreneurial approach to association leadership and implement the resulting great ideas in their jobs. This article is a culmination of takeaways from their most recent conversation live in D.C., with a virtual component hosted by AssociationSuccess.org. The article summarizes the key takeaways from the discussion, and was written by Meena Dayak, ACE’s founder.

A culture playbook contains defined structures, systems and process that will lead your organization to its desired culture. What do these plays look like? The following three types of play have proved effective for members of ACE.

Start with Why

An entrepreneurial mindset longs for a culture that challenges the status quo, takes risks, empowers, experiments, innovates and collaborates. To achieve this, we first need to understand that there is no universal good or bad culture.

Arlene Pietranton, CEO of the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA), notes that every organization has a culture — by default or by design. If you start with the why before the what, it becomes a culture by design and can take you where you want to go.

“You should choose your culture based on what makes your organization successful,” says Jamie Notter, a culture consultant, author, and speaker who joined us for the ACE conversation. Culture is essentially “values that drive behaviors” he says. If you have behaviors that are not producing success — that are causing you to fall behind — you’ve got a culture issue. If you’re getting results (for which you need to track the data), your culture is aligned.

Define the How

Culture is a collective agreement about values and is the responsibility of everyone in the organization, according to Pietranton. Notter explains that culture lives in the words, actions, thoughts, and assumptions in your organization. When you put it all together, it becomes clear what is valued and what is not.

Notter emphasizes that culture and strategy are two sides of the same coin. An awesome culture won’t defeat a bad strategy and vice versa. In addition, the environment — internal and external — plays a big part, points out Pietranton. You could have a great culture and strategy but if your timing is off, and you are not responsive to the needs around you, you won’t get results.

Culture can’t be changed by dreaming about what you want, or by whining about what you have. Notter is loud and clear that you need to “do something to move the needle.” You need a defined structure, system, and processes to get to your desired culture. In essence, you need a playbook. That playbook must continuously evolve with new plays. You keep moving forward but there are no touchdowns—the game goes on.

The playbook can consist of big and small plays, and span all the elements that drive your organizational culture, explains Notter. Pietranton has been leading a cultural makeover at ASHA for two decades and described some of the plays that have resulted in wins or yielded valuable lessons over the years. Other ACErs chimed in with their experiences and challenges. You can have plays for everything — technology, communications, office structure and design, etc.

We discussed several types and did a deep dive into three critical plays — people, process, and relationships. Look out for ACE’s next article in which I will describe these plays, including examples, in detail.