Archive | July, 2010

Two Steps to Help Senior Leaders Understand “It’s Time” for Culture Change

A recent lunch meeting with a colleague generated some great insights about how to help senior leaders make the decision to refine their organization’s culture (thanks, Melissa, for your terrific questions and enthusiasm for this topic!).

Previous blog postings have explained the reality of a senior leader’s world – they have been trained to primarily (OK, even exclusively) focus on performance, results, and financial targets. Most are unaware of their organization’s culture and too few senior leaders understand the impact of culture on performance, results, and financial success. If they are aware of the power of culture to drive results, most senior leaders do not know what to do to refine their company’s culture. Most senior leaders have rarely experienced successful culture change; even fewer have led successful culture change.

Two Steps Can Help Senior Leaders Understand “It’s Time”

Senior leaders are comfortable with data. They study performance data every day. We culture change consultants must leverage this highly-developed skill to educate senior leaders about the current conditions that exist in their culture. By clarifying exactly how their culture operates today, we can help senior leaders see the gaps between how their organization operates and the characteristics of high performing, values aligned organizations.

Step 1: Show them the Data! We need to help senior leaders discover:

  • Data from outside their organization that clearly describes the best practices of high performing, values aligned cultures, and
  • Data from inside their organization that clearly describes what’s happening in their company’s work environment and highlights what best practices are NOT in place in their company’s culture.

We want these leaders to realize that they have (intentionally or not) reinforced the current culture and the ways the business operates today. In essence,  they’re getting from their culture exactly what they should expect to get. It is what it is – the current operating environment has been reinforced (consciously or unconsciously) for years. And, what the work environment delivers today may not be good (culture, results, customer relationships, etc.) – and culture change is needed to enable that environment to deliver really good outcomes, consistently. Solid data can help “clean the eyeglasses” so that a senior leader can see why the business operates the way it does, and what needs changing.

Step 2: Show them the Cost of Doing Nothing!
Once senior leaders examine this data, they’re typically not satisfied with how the culture operates ( results, customer relationships, employee relationships, values alignment, etc.). They know the culture needs to change, but to do so they’ll probably travel down an unknown path. They’ll be concerned about what to do to change their current culture . . . and may prefer the safe path, staying with the current, known issues rather than embark on a path that (they feel) may not make the culture better.

We need to create an urgent insight that “staying the course” will not serve senior leaders well. A great way to do that is through Blanchard‘s online Cost of Doing Nothing Calculator. This easy tool enables leaders to enter real data from their organization and, in minutes, establish the hard-dollar costs of keeping the current conditions in place.

Once senior leaders understand the costs of “status quo,” they are typically ready to dive in to culture change . . . guided by experienced culture change consultants who created a proven, award-winning process.

What indicators do you look for that let you know your team’s culture needs refinement? Share your insights in the comments section below.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Five Critical Success Factors for Culture Transformation

My work with culture change clients is some of the most gratifying of my career. Guiding committed senior leaders to define their desired culture and to rally their staff to embrace desired values and behaviors is marvelous to observe. If done properly, their culture refinement efforts generate higher performance . . . increase genuine consideration of bosses, peers, customers, and stakeholders . . . and create a values-aligned work environment where players are  trusted, honored, and respected.

In our meta-analysis of culture research and in reviewing our work with culture change clients, my co-author colleagues (of Ken Blanchard‘s award-winning, proven culture change process) and I have identified five factors that were present in every single successful culture transformation we’ve guided. These are also posted in the culture change section of Blanchard’s web site.

Organizations that successfully create high performing, values-aligned cultures share these five critical success factors:

  1. The senior leadership team must demonstrate commitment to the long-term process. The culture change process must be embraced and championed by the entire senior leadership team. They must lead this effort with “one heart, one mind, and one voice.” Senior leaders cannot delegate the responsibility for culture creation, maintenance, or refinement any more than they can delegate the responsibility to breathe! They will be held to high standards as desired values are defined (in behavioral terms) and communicated. Cultural transformation is an ongoing project that will never go away.
  2. Values must be defined in behavioral terms. This is the only approach that makes your desired behaviors observable, tangible, and measurable. Ultimately, you don’t care about someone’s beliefs or attitude – you care that they demonstrate desired valued behaviors with every boss, peer, customer, and stakeholder, every day, in every interaction.
  3. Accountability for delivering promised performance and demonstrating valued behaviors is paramount. Consequences must be swift and consistent. Positive consequences for meeting performance and values expectations must be described and demonstrated. Praise and encourage the performance and values demonstration you want! Negative consequences must be applied when performance is below standards or valued behaviors are not demonstrated. You must not tolerate undesirable behavior from anyone at any level.
  4. It is vital that all staff are involved in and buy into the culture transformation at every phase. This process is not about “managing by announcements,” where leaders tell everyone what the new expectations are but don’t invite thoughts or hold people—including themselves—consistently accountable. For all staff to embrace the desired culture, they must be included in the clarification process. They must help define and commit to what the new culture will demand of them (and their bosses and peers).
  5. One step at a time. Find a manageable scope for the change initiative. Don’t try to change the entire organization at once; move at a pace that the organization can tolerate. Start with a distinct part of the organization—a department, division, plant, or regional office—to learn how the process flows. Then select another distinct part of the organization and begin the change process there, modifying and refining the roll out based on what you learned with the first group. Continue until you’ve “digested the entire elephant.”

If you skip any of our process phases or key activities or do not have these critical success factors in place, you will not gain traction on your desired culture. If you’d like to see a higher performance, values-aligned culture in your organization, let us know – we’d love to help guide you.

What success factors would you add? Contribute your thoughts in the comments section below.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

How does your Company’s Culture Measure Up?

How well does your current company culture support desired performance as well as maintain consistent employee passion?

Are your customers pleased – maybe even thrilled – with the products and services you provide and how they are treated by your staff?

Do current and potential employees believe your company is a great place to work? Are your customers positive “word of mouth” marketers of your company and your products and services?

All of these are indicators of a healthy corporate culture. Most senior leaders are unaware of the powerful impact that culture has on their organization’s performance and on employee satisfaction/engagement/passion. Blanchard‘s award-winning, proven culture change process helps educate senior leaders about their responsibilities to proactively manage their company’s culture. Those activities include role modeling and reinforcing performance and values expectations, holding all staff accountable for those expectations, and refining those expectations over time as your market and opportunities evolve.

The creation of a valid, reliable culture assessment is no small task. When we first built our culture assessment, process co-authors Bob Glaser, Garry Demarest, and I did an extensive literature review and meta-analysis of culture change research and of best practices around the globe. We continue that study regularly to ensure that our profile assesses the right cultural elements today. Our culture change clients tell us we’ve got it right.

The items on our culture change assessment describe the best practices of high performance, values-aligned cultures. We use a six point rating scale (an even numbered scale prevents respondents from select a neutral, mid-point answer, which doesn’t provide you with actionable data):

  1. Strongly Disagree
  2. Disagree
  3. Slightly Disagree
  4. Slightly Agree
  5. Agree
  6. Strongly Agree

We do provide a response category titled “don’t know/doesn’t apply.” However, we’d prefer to see no responses here – as you’ll see from the sample items below, all of these statements apply in a high performing, values-aligned culture!

Here are a few sample items from our culture assessment for your consideration:

  • Team members understand what it takes for our organization to be successful today.
  • Individual team members’ personal purpose and values are aligned with our organization’s purpose and values.
  • Team member performance plans include both ends goals (results) and means goals (valued behaviors).
  • Declared team values are the foundation of team decisions and actions.
  • Our work environment fosters trust among team members.
  • At work, team members actively praise and encourage each other.

What is a “good” response to these items? We want to see scores at the 5-6 level for every item, across the organization, from frontline employees to senior leaders. That kind of alignment to these cultural best practices does not happen casually – it happens only with consistent focus by the senior leadership team and leaders across the organization.

As part of the two-day process kickoff workshop for the organization’s senior leadership team, we typically complete two different culture assessments as prework and analyze the results together during the session:

  • The first context is of the senior leader and his/her direct reports ranking their executive team. In previous posts here I’ve stated the vital importance of an aligned senior leadership team that proactively manages their company culture with “one heart, one mind, one voice.” This data helps the senior leadership team understand what gaps exist today and enables action planning to close those gaps across this team.
  • The second context is from the “frontline,” assessing how employees rank the organization on these key questionnaire items. This “overall” perspective is important as it helps the senior leadership team understand culture gaps perceived by their “first customers” – their employees – and begin action planning to address those gaps.

By using our assessment you’ll discover what gaps exist between the best practices of high performance, values-aligned cultures and your organization’s culture. We stand by to help you address those gaps and build an amazing work environment for employees, customers, and stakeholders.

How well does your team or department do on the sample culture items above? What do YOU look for in an aligned corporate culture? Share your comments below.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Leader Only When You have Followers

This YouTube video was shot in May 2009 at the Sasquatch Music Festival, which is held at the Gorge Amphitheater outside of Wenatchee, WA.

It shows how one shirtless dancing guy creates a wonderful dance party – in minutes – all because of the commitment and willingness of his first follower.

I learned about this impactful video from one of our culture change clients, the senior vice president of a US-based retail giant. Joel’s division includes seven states, over 300 stores, and more than 85,000 employees (!).

Joel is a fabulous servant leader and has a very clear vision of how he wants employees to feel at work every day: trusted, honored, and respected by their bosses and peers. This won’t happen without leaders across the business serving their employees FIRST and their customers SECOND.

Joel sees this video clip as the perfect demonstration of followers making a huge impact, very quickly. In discussions with managers in his division, Joel describes not just the cool dance party this guy generates – but how impressive it is for that first follower to join in the dance. Without followers, leaders are not leading – they’re just filling a role.

Joel is trying to be his division’s “dancing guy” – describing how to manage their business in a values-aligned way, to benefit employees so they perform well AND love the work they do, which positively impacts the customer experiences, etc. – and Joel cannot accomplish this vision unless his managers follow him.

Joel’s vision and values – and his team’s commitment to clear expectations and accountability – have helped the stores in his division increase performance in three vital areas over the last two years: employee satisfaction, customer service ratings, and profitability. Joel is a marvelous, inspiring, effective leader – you can tell by observing the motivated, skilled, high-performing followers at his side!

What do leaders do that inspire YOU to follow them? Add your thoughts in the comments section below!


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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