Culture eats strategy for breakfast, a phrase originated by Peter Drucker and made famous by Mark Fields, President at Ford, and an absolute reality! Any university that disconnects these two elements jeopardizes institutional progress in an ever-changing academic environment. Changing an organization’s culture in times of rapid change, and adapting to such changes, has been recognized as one of the most difficult leadership challenges in medical education and academic medicine. In order to succeed, there must be clear communication and alignment at the executive level in institutional leadership so that expectations are well-aligned, institutional directions are clearly communicated, and goals, strategies, and tactics are fully articulated to university faculty and staff. As our college advances rapidly toward full accreditation, organizational change has become the ‘new normal’ for all of us, raising the question of how to best thrive without losing sight of true North on our compass.
As innovators, several members of our leadership team have begun pursuing a surprisingly simple, yet innovative approach: bringing faculty together not to discuss problems, but to reflect on what is going well. Such perspective, termed “appreciative inquiry,” invites us all to see ourselves and the world through an appreciative or valuing eye. The idea is to facilitate conversations among faculty about the things that work well in our organization, focusing on its strengths as opposed to fixating on its dysfunctions. By doing that, it turns out, organizations can outpace the norm for reaching its goals rapidly and effectively. The goal is not to deny or ignore issues that need to be addressed, but to prepare the organization to address those issues from a position of strength and confidence, grounded in a shared sense of purpose, impact, and collective excitement about our vision for the future.
I have personally found “appreciative inquiry” to be exceptionally productive when addressing the faculty and developing strategic plans for the future. Conversations about our organization’s strengths, with a focus on the organization at its best, is very effective in helping capture our collective dreams and aspirations, as well as our values, norms and shared beliefs that are needed to achieve them. Such forward-looking conversations are not only productive but inspire and drive successful growth.