How many times have you heard these quotes about corporate culture?
- “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”
- “Culture is the way things get done around here”
- “Culture is created based on the behaviors of the leader”
All three of these sayings certainly have an element of truth behind them. And I’m happy that there is so much focus on culture today that these statements have become clichés. It means that leaders are taking the importance of culture seriously. According to a Duke University Fuqua School of Business survey, nearly 1,900 CEOs and CFOs identified corporate culture as the number one driver of economic business value.
All talk no action?
Understanding that culture is important and doing something about it are two different things. We are starting to see CEO’s make culture a priority, even a strategy for business success. But according to a study by leadership advisory firm Egon Zehnder, 50% of CEO’s said doing culture change was more difficult than they anticipated.
That’s because change in general is difficult. The whole science behind change management has risen as the speed of change has increased. I remember being in Orlando in February of 2011 at the inaugural Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP), Global Change Conference. As participants we had the opportunity to sign up as a founding member of ACMP and I was proud to be a part of this launch. Managing change became a defined process.
Defining culture change
Today we are on the same curve with culture. We recognize that there is a science behind the measurement and management of culture. And, formalizing it into a framework is still a work in progress. But leaders are looking for something to guide them in the exercise. This is why I created the six step IGNITE process, based on research and my own experience around transforming workplace culture.
However, one thing that is becoming clear as leaders take on culture change, is that the process falls apart without commitment. And I mean commitment with a capital C. According to Building a Values-Driven Organization author Richard Barrett “Organizations do not transform. People do”.
Taking on the Personal Transformation Challenge
Because culture is formed based on the behaviors and beliefs of the leaders, in order for true transformation to take place, by default, there needs to be a personal change by the leaders. This means there must be commitment from leaders throughout the organization to take ownership of the role that they play in shaping the culture.
I’m encouraged by the number of leaders who are tossing out employee engagement surveys and are turning to culture assessments. But heads up, these assessments are basically a 3600 review of the leadership team. The best assessment tools will measure the executive ranks as a team, as well as individuals. They will highlight where pockets of cultural entropy exist, and this will shine a spotlight on these business units and their leaders.
The big task for CEO’s
Once the benchmark has been established, the road to transformation is uncovered. Leaders must be willing to be accountable to be a part of the change, including personal change. Inevitably there will be members who are not willing to make this commitment. This means the challenge for the CEO is threefold:
- Make my own personal change
- Lose some of my best performers because they will not commit to change
- Support and manage the personal transformation of the leadership team
These are the soft skill sets that many leaders have not been trained for. Egon Zehnder reports that 47% of CEO’s said developing their senior leadership team was surprisingly challenging. And that’s why so many organizations are struggling to make the necessary shift in their culture to keep them competitive. Unless you have full commitment to personal and organizational change, the process is doomed.
And so this brings us back to a cliché that still stands the test of time:
“We must become the change we want to see.” Mahatma Gandhi