Discipline, Accounbability & Company Culture

Changing corporate culture is never easy.  There are many theories about how to go about it including a popular theory articulated by Peter Drucker, “Company cultures are like country cultures.  Never try to change one and work with what you’ve got.”

In relation to our company culture at Wycliffe, one that started long before our founding in 1942, and rooted deeply in The Greatest Generation that experienced WWII, I can see what Drucker might be referring to: change, if it’s possible at all, does not come easily to an organization the size and age of Wycliffe.  It’s a process taking time, making huge demands on leadership and on every member of the staff.

In his monograph, Good to Great In the Social Sectors, Jim Collins says Not For Profits (NFPs) must find ways of defining greatness without metrics; success in NFPs must be assessed relative to mission, not profit (administrative costs/overhead for NFPs is a hot topic of debate right now.)  Collins pushes into this area by asking, how successful are you at delivering on our mission relative to our resources?  Collins makes the point that any CEO for a NFP will verify; we have to hold ourselves accountable even if your outputs defy measurement.  “Leadership must be passionate first and foremost for the cause, movement, mission and do whatever it takes to deliver on the mission; compulsive people who are neurotic in their desire to improve.”  Pleased but not yet satisfied!

One of our traditional metrics in Wycliffe has always been the number of people we recruit, train and send from the United States to work in Bible translation around the globe.  While not ignoring this, we’re trying to find new ways of accomplishing our mission.  We have to to look differently at what defines success in light of changes in the way we work, including the demographics of the worldwide workforce that is no longer dominated by Europeans or North Americans.

One of the things we continually talk about in Wycliffe in relation to our resources is, can we do what’s expected of us ‘cheaper, faster and with no loss of quality?”  If we can, hard decisions may be necessary to evaluate programs in light of the new information.  What do we stop doing so we can reallocate limited resources to more strategic opportunities?

Much has been written on this topic so I wonder what, if anything, I can add–probably not much.  Personally, maybe unlike Drucker, I believe companies, like people can change–they have to change.  While the basic framework may still be there (mission, vision, results to achieve) it has to be possible to overcome the genetic disposition in an organization creating new pathways for behaviors that result in different outputs.  People like John Kotter have made a good living out of helping leaders do change.

One final thought–the reason change takes time is because it’s a self-discipline.  I never find it easy to discipline myself in areas that require behavioral changes.  Sometimes it simply an act of the will until new behaviors take over.

Collins in his book, Great by Choice, reports on a study, the results of which he illustrates by telling the story of Amundsen and Scott, two explorers racing to the South Poll.

“In October 1911, two teams of adventurers made their final preparations in their quest to be the first people in modern history to reach the South Pole.  A near-perfect matched pair: Roald Amundsen (the winner) and Robert Falcon Scott (the loser). Similar ages (39 and 43) and with comparable experience, they started their respective journeys for the Pole within days of each other.  Both facing a round trip of more than 1,400 miles into an uncertain and unforgiving environment where temperatures could easily reach 20˚ below zero even during the summer, made worse by gale-force winds — no radio, no cellphones, no satellite links — and a rescue would have been highly improbable at the South Pole if they screwed up.”

According to the account, Amundsen and Scott had exactly the same ratio, 56%, of good days to bad days of weather. If they faced the same environment in the same year with the same goal, the causes of their respective success and failure simply cannot be the environment.  According to the analysis done by Collins, he believes they had divergent outcomes principally because they displayed very different behaviors.

The whole time, Amundsen disciplined his team–never going too far in good weather and careful never to over-exert/exhaust them.  Good weather and bad, the same: pressing ahead staying on pace.  In contrast, Scott would sometimes drive his team to exhaustion on good days and then sit in his tent and complain about the weather on bad days.

Collins speculates: doing the most good means saying “no” to pressures to stray, and the discipline to stop doing what does not fit.

About Bob Creson

President/CEO of Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, Orlando, Florida. It is an injustice not to have the right to read the Scriptures.
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One Response to Discipline, Accounbability & Company Culture

  1. clintondixx says:

    Bob,
    Great post! The role of leadership, not just senior leadership, but leadership at all levels of the organization, cannot be overstated in producing cultural change. But to accomplish this we need to redefine leadership as based upon influence rather than on authority. This refocusing can unleash people who have no position of authority to fulfill a vital role in fostering cultural change.
    Currently one of my projects is developing a “theology of organizational development and change” for the Wycliffe Global Alliance-Americas Organizational Development team. In reading It Starts with One, by Black and Gregerson (2008), I was coming to realize that organizational change is emotional rather than purely logical. However, when I then read Creating Space for Grace, by James (2004), I am realizing that organizational change is actually spiritual. Organizational systems, which are after all human systems, are also subject to the Fall and therefore messed up and do not operate as they should. The solution for organizational systems, therefore, needs to start from a spiritual basis.
    I thought of one thing reading your paragraph about measuring success and accountability for results. Ebrahim (2005) stated that nonprofits need to find a balance between simply being accountable to donors and with organizational learning that will allow them to better accomplish their mission. Without learning mechanisms in place an organization will be doomed to repeat its errors of the past. I am concerned that the strong focus on results within the Global Alliance does not have this dual focus. We concentrate on accountability but we forget to learn in the process. Learning needs to go hand-in-hand with accountability and Ebrahim proposes that sustainability for nonprofits will only occur when that happens.
    As the senior leader for Wycliffe-US you need to keep what is important at the forefront of our minds. You have done been doing it with things like this post. Thank you for doing that. Keep up the good work.

    Clinton Dix
    Black, J. S., & Gregersen, H. B. (2008). It starts with one: Changing individuals changes organizations. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.
    Ebrahim, A. (2005). Accountability myopia: Losing sight of organizational learning. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 34(1), 56-87. doi: 10.1177/0899764004269430.
    James, R. (2004). Creating space for grace: God’s power in organisational change

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