Changing NAOF: Organisational culture ate strategies for breakfast – what happened next?

I used to study intercultural communication. It deals with the cultures of different countries, and the main idea is that cultures do not change – people need to respect different cultures and adapt their behaviour accordingly. This is why cultures need to be studied and understood, so that we can succeed in our interaction.

Recently, I have focused on organisations, organisational cultures and interaction between people within working communities. I have learned that organisational cultures can change, albeit very slowly. A change does not take place on its own – it requires long-term leadership with a vision. However, we should aim to change organisational cultures when they do not meet their purpose.

This theme is topical also at the National Audit Office, as we have recently adopted a new strategy. Our objective is to identify and recognise our current operating models and strengthen and renew our ways of working as a community. We aim to achieve this through competence development, by adopting a project work model in auditing that emphasises team work, and by separating leadership services from supervisory duties.

Organisational culture is a success factor consisting of interaction between people

Inspired by intercultural communication, I worked for a couple of years in communication and project management tasks in Sweden after my studies. I learned what it means to place human relations and the community before processes and results.

My first feelings of impatience and frustration were slowly replaced by understanding and admiration. After all, smoothly flowing processes and positive results come especially from well-functioning relationships between people and a strong sense of community. People are in the centre of strategies, and strategies are used to steer interaction between people towards organisational goals.

The development of organisational culture can be seen as a strategic and led evolution, in which the working community slowly starts to change its perspective. People are helped to understand, and they also understand on their own. People before results, the community before the process. Still, we do not need to abandon results and processes, as this change gives more than it takes.

The NAOF is about to start a journey towards a people-oriented organisation. Everyone is heard and each employee will have their own development path to follow alongside their everyday duties. The different roles involved in project work offer a chance to change perspectives every now and then. Communal working provides learning opportunities and increases interaction, thus providing the personnel with more chances to influence their work. All this will also enhance our insight and the usefulness of our audit information.

Culture can be led through strategies, but strategies need to be innovative and properly led

The permanence of the organisational culture is often emphasised by saying that culture eats strategies for breakfast.

I believe it is time to change this opinion: a strong organisational culture does not even bother to have a bite of a weak or poorly led strategy. Instead, culture enjoys innovative and properly led strategies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When culture chews on strategies for long enough, they slowly start to turn into real strategies.

Organisational cultures and strategies have been talked about extensively, but possibly not enough collectively. Strategies should be built to develop culture, meaning interaction between people and the sense of community. Strategies often start from external goals. What if a new internal organisational culture was both the starting point and the goal?

We at the NAOF intend to boldly renew our organisational culture where change is needed. The change needs have been taken into account in our new strategy, and we all at the NAOF are collectively responsible for that change.

Author: Tuovi Rautjoki