Cultural Assimilation


Adapting to change; WHO is joining WHO?

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When new people join companies and nonprofit groups there is a natural tendency for them to try and change the culture to suit their work habits, attitudes, and customs. Such changes are sometimes welcomed by the culture, but more often than not, it is steadfastly resisted and the person is rebuffed. Those people who believe the culture should adapt to them, as opposed to the other way around, are in for a rude awakening.

Any time you join an organization, you have to remember YOU are joining THEM, they are not joining you. You would be wise, therefore, to tread lightly until you truly understand the culture and can work within it. In order for any employee or member to be successful, they must believe in and possess the ability to adapt to the corporate culture.

Over the years I have been involved with a plethora of nonprofit groups and have observed the initial reaction of new members to the group. Some can adapt and become a member of the group, others tend to butt heads, become frustrated and quit. As a new member, there is a natural inclination to question policies and procedures in order to better understand the dynamics of the group. I consider this healthy. As an aside, I’m mystified when people join a group blindly and don’t ask any questions whatsoever. However, before offering suggestions to change the group, be sure to understand how the group is organized, its history, the duties and responsibilities of the officers, and the politics involved. With rare exception, nonprofit groups can be every bit as political as commercial enterprises, perhaps more so.

People who offer changes without first studying the corporate culture are usually surprised when the officers, elders or the entire membership reject their ideas. As a result, they feel rejected and move along to the next group where they will inevitably run into the same scenario again. Remember this, no matter how logical your arguments are in favor of a change, it is an emotional decision as people perceive it as an alteration to the status quo. If you are a dictator, people will reluctantly accept your changes, but most nonprofits involve a group of officers and people who only understand the status quo and, as such, staunchly defend it. Their mantra is typically, “That’s the way we have always done it.”

So, what is the best way to implement changes in such groups? First, assimilate the culture and take note of what is right and wrong with it. Second, get into a position of authority, such as an officer where you can establish your visibility and credibility. Third, introduce your changes in smaller increments. If they are successful, the group will begin to trust your judgment thereby paving the way to implement bolder changes later on. Just remember, “You eat elephants one spoonful at a time.” (Bryce’s Law) If you come on too strong, too bold, too fast, you will undoubtedly become too disappointed and too disillusioned.

Do not despair if things do not go your way. You will inevitably meet with setbacks. It is only natural. You can either decide to withdraw from the group or lick your wounds and move forward. Either way, do not take it personally; you are fighting a culture, not an individual.

“It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new ones.”

– Machiavelli, “The Prince” (1513)

Keep the Faith!