Keeper of the Culture

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**Third in a series relating to a recent “experiment” in succession planning

I was living in England with my partner at the time when the company he worked for, Crystal Decisions, was acquired by Business Objects, a French enterprise software company. As with any major corporate acquisition we were curious (read: concerned!) what it would mean for his job security and how the culture of the new entity would evolve. 

As it turned out, Business Objects recognized the strength of Crystal Decision’s entrepreneurial and innovative culture and endeavored to retain and foster that same culture. Coincidentally, Vantage Point’s past Chair, Tracy Logan, was also a long-time Crystal Decisions employee, and in the new organization she was given an executive leadership role that I understood as “keeper of the culture”. 

The significance of this responsibility (and unofficial title) really stuck with me and was recently made more concrete through my experience assuming many of Vantage Point’s Executive Director’s responsibilities from Colleen Kelly in 2011.

I took on these responsibilities after returning from a year away on maternity leave. Many senior staff changes had taken place. Rather than asking Colleen the right questions to gain clarity on the current organizational culture, I took cues and gathered evidence from the rest of the staff team. In a way, I allowed the team to guide me on what the culture was, rather than provide the guiding vision to align everyone. What an opportunity to learn from failure!

The trouble with fostering a strong culture is that it isn’t a “task” you can check off your to-do list. Culture is much more slippery. Jeffrey Wilcox of Third Sector Learning gave us one way of framing it: Clarity + Consistency = Culture. As an Executive Director it’s critical to have a clear vision of what the culture is and then act as the “keeper” of that culture through consistency.

Have you committed to your role as “keeper of the culture” as an Executive Director? Do you have any successes or failures to share?

About the Author

Maria Turnbull brings over 20 years of leadership experience in staff and director roles within the not-for-profit sector, both here in Canada and in the UK. With a BA in International Relations and MBA, Maria is a skilled facilitator and consultant in board governance, organizational development,...
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