Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Steps to Organizational Culture Erosion

Organizational cultures erode. They wash away. A once thriving business seems to suddenly close. A church that was full a year ago, now barely has anyone attending. A non-profit organization providing services just seems to fade away. What happened? Some where along the way they lost the ability to control their organizational culture and lost their central focus upon their mission, vision, and values. How does this happen?


The first step of culture erosion usually occurs with the loss of the person championing of the culture. Most organizational, business, or ministry cultures have a key leader who champions the culture, continually reminding the leaders of the central mission, vision, and values that the culture embraces. The first step toward cultural erosion is the loss of that key leader. The loss of this leader can come as a result of crisis, promotion, or even rebellion of the culture against the leader. No matter what the cause of the loss, without a key leader the key mission, vision, and values of the culture are in jeopardy.

Once the key leader is removed a lack of clarity regarding the culture sets in. Competing perspectives arise as new culture shapers vie for influence. Even those who seek to maintain the existing culture make changes, however subtle, that affect the culture. Without a key culture leader the past is interpreted  though the lenses of vague memories and a lack of institutional/ministry memory occurs. The central mission, vision, and values become vague representations of what they were before and a lack of clarity set in. The longer the business, organization, or ministry goes without a key keeper of the culture, the less clarity there is and the more time erosion has to set in. After as little as a few months, and certainly within a year, the culture has been subjected to seismic changes caused by a lack of mission, vision, and value clarity, and that lack of clarity alters the foundation of the business, organization, or ministry.

With the loss of the leader and the prevailing loss of clarity regarding the mission, vision, and values of the culture, the final step in the process of cultural erosion is the collapse of the culture altogether. Mission drift begins to occur. Often unhealthy leaders arise who desire to co-opt the culture or create an entirely new culture to replace the one that was lost. With a loss of prevailing culture, the vision is lost, the values are rejected, and the mission is abandoned. The culture has eroded and a period of mourning occurs until a new culture creator arrives and begins building a new culture.

Perhaps the erosion of culture is a natural process. Perhaps it is the result of inattention to the mission, vision, and values in the midst of daily struggles. Either way, erosion happens. As keepers of the culture we must intentionally maintain the culture. Keep a ruthless focus upon the mission, vision and values of the business, organization, or ministry we lead, and refuse to allow it to be co-opted by neglect or unhealthy leaders. This way we can prevent culture erosion.

Consumed by the Call,
Marty
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