One of my favourite quotes of all time is "culture eats strategy for breakfast"; I think it originated from Ford Motor Co. I elaborate a bit on this in my presentation on how to create engaging e-learning. In summary, all it means is that however well thought out your strategy is, however firmly embedded in an organisation, it's all pointless unless your culture is aligned with your strategy.
The problem is that the term "culture" is bandied around with careless abandon - rather in the same way as the terms "knowledge management", "engagement", "community of practice" and even, dare I say it "social media".
This came to mind when I read Mark Berthelemy's posting here. Mark knows exactly what culture is, and I wouldn't challenge him for a second. But so often I hear the term "culture" applied loosely when we should be talking about processes, procedures or technologies. It's particularly important to be clear when we're talking about the use of social media in organisations.
The diagram on the right is a simplifed version of various theorists' views of what culture is (have a look at Trompenaars, Hofstede, Adler and others). It suggests that culture exists and operates at various levels. What's important in relation to social media is that, for example, an organisation can try to cultivate norms and behaviour in terms of social learning, and put in place the infrastructure to do so (i.e. the signs and symbols level); but if the fundamental beliefs in the organisation don't actively encourage social learning, it's all pointless.
The real challenge is that beliefs and assumptions are often invisible to those that have them. They can also take years to shift - unless some kind of traumatic event occurs to challenge them.
BUT - and it's a big but...in these wonderful, fluid, out-of-control times we live in, it's no longer the case that the beliefs and assumptions of an organisation are necessarily dictated from the top (if, indeed, they ever were; I think we used to just pretend we believed what we were told...). I love the suggestion on slide 13 of this presentation by Marks Oehlert and Sylvester that you just find like-minded people, "think big, start small, move fast"...and just get on with it. Don't go up the hierarchy - shift the beliefs of the organisation by finding and connecting people whose beliefs have already shifted.