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.
“All group and organizational theories distinguish two major sets of problems that all groups, no matter what their size must deal with: 1) survival, growth, and adaptation to their environment and 2) internal integration that permits daily functioning and the ability to adapt.” – Schein
We previously discussed how leaders manage organizational culture by balancing both internal and external influences in order to successfully direct an organization’s cultural norms.
What happens when the manager leaves the organization? Is culture sustainable when a new leader is directing it?
Roger Stancil announced his retirement about nine months prior to his expected last day as Town Manager of Chapel Hill. He did this to offer the Council plenty of time to look for a new Manager and also to provide leaders within the organization time to process the transition.
The Senior Leadership Team took this time to strategize about how to maintain the Town’s sense of collaboration and innovation while also welcoming a new Manager into the organization.
In light of Edgar Schein’s quote above, cultural change seems inevitable: as department heads, middle management, and front-line staff adapt to the Town’s new leader, they must come to understand the basic assumptions he brings to the table. In order to “survive”, employees may adapt their perspectives – and even basic assumptions – to successfully navigate their changing day-to-day experiences in the organization.
And this is a good thing! In our interview, we asked Roger the question “why change culture?” Roger answered:
“Because it’s really something bigger than what you’re doing and it can give more meaning to what you’re doing […] great organizations are where people can make dreams come true, be it a personal dream about who you want to be or something you want to change about the world we live in.”
A good leader recognizes both the aspects of culture that are worth changing and the aspects that are worth sustaining. Fortunately for the Town of Chapel Hill, the new Town Manager repeatedly told Roger the great things he had heard about the Town’s employees – all of those things which the Senior Leadership had strategized around preserving.
As Roger stated in our interview, “Celebrating cultural change is part of what you have to step back and do too.” The Town of Chapel Hill staff will certainly continue to celebrate its culture of collaboration and innovation as they welcome the opportunities for cultural growth and development that the new Town Manager brings to the table.
- Schein, Edgar. “Defining Organizational Culture,” in Shafrtiz, Jay M Jr, J. Steven ott, Yong Suk Jang, Classics of Organization Theory, 364.