Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

CEO – organisational culture circuit-breaker? Series 1 of 2

The connection between organisational-culture and the circuit-breaker may come as a surprise to many of you. Why should we even think of ‘breaking’ as opposed to ‘taming’ culture? After all, when it comes to matters change, contemporary change management theory espouses win-win, incremental and not big-bang approaches.

Well, we are talking organisational-culture here. Culture lies deep within an institution’s body fabric. It’s the way things are done at the institution. The so-called things are deeply ingrained values that manifest in the thinking and actions of those that work for the organisation and the way others perceive the brand. To change such well-knitted elements is not an easy job.  CEO’s surrender before they even start.

CEO – Org. culture circuit-breaker

Yet, culture is not always in the best interest of the organisation and may need changing. Many times, there is a disconnect between organisational culture and strategy or the direction the organisation wants to take. Culture, in our opinion, is the number one hindrance to good-change at organisations.

Because many have tried to change the culture, but have been beaten at it, culture is rarely touched during organisation change and strategy making initiatives. Many executives have had their professional careers destroyed, and vision thwarted because they were attempting to change the culture. And the result: culture rarely changes. It’s the other organisational elements that change to fit the culture.

Renowned Management theorist Peter Drucker places culture in its right place within the organisation: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

The CEO as the organisational culture circuit-breaker:

In this first series of The CEO – organisational culture circuit-breaker, we share a perfect example of the CEO playing the organisational circuit-breaker role.

And who in this case, other than the chief Honcho of the Catholic faithful in the world – the Holy Pope Francis

According to the Guardian: for his attempts to change long-held doctrine and culture practices, Pope Francis may be the most hated man inside the Curia at the Vatican.  Interesting enough, he is the most revered by millions outside of the Vatican, including some of the faithful that have been excluded from certain practices of the church – i.e. the divorced not taking holy communion

The Pope’s modesty and humility have made him a popular figure around the world. But inside the church, his reforms have infuriated conservatives and sparked a revolt

This Pope is a Pope that does things that some inside the church he leads consider not Papal. He is going against dogma and practices and in the process attempting to change a culture that outlived many of his predecessors.

Pope Francis was until 2013 Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio that was known and respected by some, for his liberal tendencies as a priest in Latin America. He came out openly in defence of the poor. He is a ‘simple’ Pope who upon his appointment as Pope started to challenge the culture at the Vatican. As the new the new Pope he drove a Fiat, carried his own bags and settled his own bills in hotels.

He also refused to judge gay people and had this for an answer when asked about gay people: “Who am I to judge?” The Pope even washed the feet of Muslim women refugees. The Pope had set the tone for culture change at the Vatican and in the global Catholic Church with one billion followers.

Pope Francis has not only changed social practices of his predecessors but also the core business of the institution he leads. He has challenged the Church’s doctrine on divorce. Francis has encouraged priests to give communion to the divorced and remarried couples as well as couples that are living together but are unmarried

Apparently, even the Vatican has the equivalent of the end of year office party. At such events, we all go in wishing that the boss will praise the good we have done in the year that is about to pass.

Instead, in his December 2015 traditional Christmas address to his staff, Pope Francis was in no mood for granting accolades to his team. He accused the staff of arrogance, “spiritual Alzheimer’s”, “hypocrisy that is typical of the mediocre and a progressive spiritual emptiness that academic degrees cannot fill”, as well as empty materialism and an addiction to gossip and backbiting. Hmmmm what was wrong with the boss?

Francis is on to something here. He is attempting to break the organisational-culture circuit at an institution that has been driven by a conservative culture for centuries. Conservatism has been core to Catholic Church’s very survival.

No wonder, in February 2017, posters were publicly displayed in the streets of Rome asking: “Francis, where’s your mercy?”, apparently as an attack on his firing of one of the critics of his culture change agenda – the conservative Cardinal Burke.

It isn’t going to be easy for the pope. He has a clear vision and strategy for his papacy, but like many in the church and other institutions, his vision and strategy faces the danger of being eaten for breakfast, by the very culture that he is trying to change.

CEO’s that are the organisational culture circuit-breakers are incredibly vulnerable ‘creatures’ in the organisation’s eco-system.  Their success is predetermined by a prevalence of specific factors. And even when such factors are assured, success is not guaranteed.

Is organisational culture the skank to ‘hygienic’ organisational change? How can organisational culture be tamed to allow much-needed reform of an organisation?

See you next week












3 responses to “CEO – organisational culture circuit-breaker? Series 1 of 2”

  1. […] way of Catholic Church and its on-going realignment challenge. It has a fighter jet leader type in Pope Francis and an Airforce One organization in the Curia – and we know what is happening at the […]


  2. Thank you Apollo. I had taken time without commenting on your blogs. But I religiously read everyone of them. It’s now cultural to Read your blog. Cultural is here to stay in every society. Anthropogists will tell you that survival of any society is it’s culture. Cultural is identity.

    However, change can happen and has always happened in every culture. Organizations world over change in form of reform, strategy shift, introduction of new technology and many factors. Even individuals change (Mindset, environment, global politics etc). I like your incremental change NOT a bang type of change. If one doesn’t change…change changes u.


    1. Thanks Kairukabi – I am sure then, that the Holy father Francis would have counted you an ally, if you were Catholic!

      He has a real battle on his hands with his change agenda – let us see in next week’s blog what drives his chances to succeed – of course, first it’s God, but also enabled by other earthly factors


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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