I was talking to a relatively new staff member who asked me how to know the difference between culture and tradition. The leader of our organization has made it clear that our culture is to be protected…but our methods, systems, and programs are all subject to inspection and regular improvement. Here are some thoughts I shared:
If you break with culture (mission, vision, values), then a leader above you will intentionally let you know and they will be able to identify the misalignment. This will be a healthy conversation that reveals a new layer of personal growth and understanding about the organization and you will walk away appreciative of the lesson learned.
If you break with tradition (methods, systems, programs) the primary reactions will come from your peers. Some will support you and others will not. You will be stepping on toes, engaged in conflict, and it will “feel” like a cultural issue. However, the leaders above you will be silent. They will be waiting and watching to see if the changes you initiate are beneficial to the organization.
Only time will tell the difference.
But, playing it safe and avoiding conflict isn’t helpful. As a leader, you have to initiate change. I don’t think you can really learn the difference between culture and tradition without stepping in some “poop” every once in a while.
I hope you find this helpful.
Thanks for listening.