This is a blog series about “Leading Culture” by Rae Buckley and Lindsey Bineau, with the expertise of retired Chapel Hill, NC Town Manager, Roger Stancil. Read all installments as they’re published online here. Today’s introduction post is by Rae Buckley.
“Organizational cultures are created in part by leaders, and one of the most decisive functions of leadership is the creation, the management, and sometimes even the destruction of culture.” -Edgar Schein
Can culture be changed by managers? How much do internal and external factors influence cultural change within organizations?
When Roger Stancil first became Town Manager of Chapel Hill, he knew one of Council’s top priorities was to change the culture of the Town.
Roger said it was easy for him to prioritize this goal because “that’s how I think anyway… Everything is based off the culture and the ability to get things done.”
In the nascent stages of the Town of Chapel Hill’s cultural change, Roger focused on internal factors that influence culture. The much beloved Town Manager that Roger replaced had a directive approach towards management. While this helped the Town accomplish its goals, Council wanted to have a stronger relationship with Department Heads.
The first thing Roger did to assess the culture of the Town was ask Department Heads about their values. He quickly learned he would need to do the same with middle-management and front-line employees if he was going to truly understand the organization.
A foundational aspect of internal cultural management are the values that permeate all levels of an organizations. Everyone needs to be able to not only discuss these values, but genuinely believe in them, in order for culture to be sustainable.
As Edgar Schein, a scholar on cultural management, writes,
“Culture and leadership are two sides of the same coin.”
Roger set to work ensuring that leadership within the organization could successfully embrace and talk about its organizational values. Roger also dealt with many external influences on culture over the course of his 12 years as Town Manager.
“As much as we try to modify the culture and the environment in which we work… we’re constantly barraged externally.”
“the Council has a big effect on the culture.”
Both citizens and employees alike turn to the Town Council to understand Town
operations and who holds power within the organization. Without the support of Town Council, the Manager can have a difficult time successfully managing culture.
- Schein, Edgar. “Defining Organizational Culture,” in Shafrtiz, Jay M Jr, J. Steven ott, Yong Suk Jang, Classics of Organization Theory, 361 and 366.