“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” quoth the famed management guru, Peter Drucker. Indeed, many a leader has laid out brilliant strategic plans, only to see them wash up on the rocky shores of an org culture that stubbornly would not embrace those plans.

A recent example of this has emerged in the Roman Catholic Church in Australia. Pope Benedict relieved a long serving bishop of his duties last month. “Fired” would be the corporate term. According to this and other articles in the National Catholic Register, Bishop William Morris began introducing measures in the 1990s that could be described as shifting the local church culture towards a more collaborative style of decision-making.

Bishop Morris wanted to give people more of a voice. This was apparently welcomed by many but not all. A small group formed and accused him of “giving people a vote.” It appears this was a spin and not actually true. He also raised the possibility of including female priests to address the shortage of clergy. This latter point of view was what ultimately got him fired. However, in the beginning, it was his inclusive approach that riled those who protested his actions to the Vatican. In the end, they won the day and the existing culture has prevailed.

Leaders need to have an intentional plan for shifting their org culture. That plan needs to begin with understanding the current culture. Would you renovate a house without first understanding how the current house is structured and functioning? Never. Yet leaders often launch new strategic initiatives with nary a thought about the cultural obstacles and leverage points they need in order to be successful.

Culture is invisible to those who are in it. Like a fish in water, people are generally unaware of it until someone disturbs the status quo. That person is most likely to be vilified. The reasons are as well-known as they are obvious – usually related to fear and self-interest – but not always.

One easy way to label and understand your org culture is found in the terms Near and Far. A Near culture controls the behavior of others. A Far culture gives people a high level of independence. Both have strengths and both have weaknesses. One thing is for sure, both cannot co-exist.