Volume 6, July 2023

Welcome back to Fieldnotes,
CFAR’s CultureLab newsletter on organizational culture.

CFAR’s CultureLab continues to learn from and attune our thinking to the current moment of cultural turbulence and organizational change. In this volume, we share a few thought-provoking items about long-term culture change, focusing in particular on the disruptive Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action in college admissions. We see this “unignorable moment” in the context of culture change more generally, where organizations need to shape culture both for the short term and the long haul and need persistence in making lasting cultural change.

We have closely monitored the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action in university admissions. We know this decision will greatly impact the culture of higher education and academic medicine institutions, including many nonprofit colleagues and schools with whom we work. This decision will likely result in less diverse campus communities, negative impacts on health equity, and reverberations into other sectors may follow. Our focus will be to support diversity and inclusion through our collaborations with colleagues and work together to mitigate the negative cultural effects this decision is likely to have. 

Our colleague Chantalle Couba spoke to these implications in a recent article in Forbes magazine, where she noted, “We’re in a difficult time. CEOs are backing down from DEI, scared of being criticized by employees, customers, and investors. Politicians call out companies on a daily basis…When it starts to get hard, you’re in the real part of the work — culture design and culture change — the place of being honest about your true culture and deciding whether you’re going to change.” Chantalle thoughtfully captures the challenge and the need, and we share her perspective about seeing DEI efforts ultimately as culture change.

How can organizations achieve lasting, sustainable culture change? Many attempts can fall short without sufficient development of “soft skills.’ Per Hugander, writing in MIT Sloan Management Review, posits that a skills-based approach can have a long-lasting impact. His thinking has a lot of depth, as he connects the development of new skills to the creation of stories of change that generate “pull” for change and support innovation — ideas that resonate with our own approach to culture change.

Observing organizational culture change can be challenging because it often happens slowly, subtly, and incrementally. In a recent blog post, Senior Manager Chris Hugill shares the advantage of a growth mindset in shaping culture, drawing on recent client work on culture. He observes that small practices can help advance culture change if leaders are patient, take a long-term view, and measure change along the way.

Join the conversation: Our next issue will explore artificial intelligence and its relationship with organizational culture—do you have an article or paper we should read? Let us know by emailing culturelab@cfar.com.