How to Avoid a Culture Change Failure

There are many reasons why culture projects fail. The underpinning reason stems from Executive Leadership being able to fully commit or to see the transition all the way through regardless of the time investment required to move people and the organization forward. There are three constants in life – death, taxes and gravity – there’s no in between or sort of here; just as there is no sort of or in between with a culture influencing undertaking.  Goals are where you want to go. Culture is the critical element that determines whether or not you get there. To be successful in your profession and for your organization, you must be intentional, and explicit about the goal and in getting there.

According to a Harvard Business School’s recent analysis of thousands of executive assessments for more than 100 corporations, corporate cultures, good and bad, influence employees’ leadership styles more than any other aspect of their jobs. Employees who work for the same corporation, no matter what their jobs, are 30% more likely to exhibit similar leadership competencies; from how a person learns, deduces, envisions, engages, and executes to people who do the same job but who work in different companies. The same holds true even if people from different companies work in the same industry or region. Culture is a dynamic, ever evolving and highly-potent amorphous quality that exerts a powerful influence.

Here’s 7 Conditions for Successful Organizational Change from my friend Marcella Bremer

How does an organization truly master their culture? One day everything is clicking on all cylinders and later the same week, it seems all hell broke loose and the inmates are running the asylum. Organizations are systems of individuals, and for the most part, individuals’ personalities are pretty well developed by the time they hit the corporate world. They are too fast. They don’t incorporate enough communication. Leadership isn’t deeply engaged. While those, and more, are all certainly part of the failure puzzle, there seems to be a more fundamental reason that even well developed change processes fail to shift the way companies function.

Why do we succeed where others have failed?

Culture alignment, as opposed to culture change intending to shift hard-wired behaviors, has greater power and capacity to achieve corporate goals by leveraging the values that already, and inherently, drive individual employees today. A great example is the culture of the quick-serve restaurant chain, Chipotle. The organization was built, has grown and continues to grow, because it truly lives its core values. Chipotle calls it the 13 Attitudes – conscientious, respectful, hospitable, high energy, infectiously enthusiastic, happy, presentable, smart, polite, motivated, ambitious, curious, honest. There are countless examples of successful culture movements and they all are led by a committed leader – one who leads simply, practically and powerfully – such as the New England Patriots and the Gold Standards of the Ritz-Carlton hotel brand.

Today’s focus is on speed, being centered, the proper path, position and angle of attack.

Culture movements fail in large part due to the speed of change – too slow or too fast.  This speed is relative to the rhythm of the organization. Every company has an identity and thus a rhythm with which work is performed. Some areas of the organization will move faster than others and some slower. How each of these populations adapts and flexes to the overall rhythm of the organization is dependent on the leaders ability to recognize and adapt their communication and behaviors to accommodate the natural rhythm of the organization that’s aligned with its identity.

Successful culture movements are centered having core values of how we execute business and the relationships inside and outside the organization. This DNA of the organization flows from the personalities of leaders, managers and rank and file associates. As each new hire is brought on board and as each incumbent is removed from the organization, the center moves – it expands and contracts. What keeps the organization centered is leadership’s ability to identify and evaluate these movements and ensure, where appropriate, alignment to the center of the organization is never negotiated.

Successful culture alignments have a path that represents the direction the culture movement is headed. Aligning every division and department culturally and strategically ensures the employees are executing to the correct path – there is no guesswork. The path is a set of tangible tactical steps to be performed flawlessly rolling up into the strategic initiatives set forth by Executive leadership.  Without adherence to the proper path, regardless of speed or centeredness, the organization could be heading off the edge of the map. Leaders are response-able for providing and constantly communicating direction to all. Leaders without vision are merely followers.

How long will you tolerate mediocrity or less than great? 

What 3 things would make the biggest difference for you and for that of your organization?

What becomes possible when you begin to truly lead and you earn the culture you must have to be wildly successful?

By having a culture position in alignment with its path ensures the organization follows a logical sequence. The organization can be on the proper path, yet have an open or closed position, thus modestly moving the group off the correct path. This law is where interpretation by the tactical levels tend to run askew on occasion. If they understand where the path is and where it is going, then it’s less likely to out of position. If there’s fear, uncertainty and doubt in an environment lacking psychological safety or discord to the path, then those in tactical roles will close or open the face of execution and deliver an inconsistent blow that’s off the mark. In other words, they tend to “do their own thing” for a myriad of reasons, some in order to be safe or cover their ass – most of which are due to their inaccurate interpretation to the path or direction from leadership.

Much in the same manner as position and path, the angle of attack represents interpretation at the tactical level. Executing too steep or too shallow ensures an inaccurate result. Having behaviors in rhythm with customers translate into a great customer experience. It’s the day-to-day repetitions from your people who do the right thing at the right time for the right reason because they’re treated with trust and respect instead of a line-item overhead expense. It takes a stand up leader. Someone who is transparent, does what they say they will do and sees the potential in the people around them. Someone willing to sacrifice personal gain for the organization’s ultimate success.

Excellence comes from the rhythm of the 5 Laws of  Culture and by following the principles of honesty and integrity. Every day, leaders have the opportunity, the obligation and the right to Lead Elegantly. It starts with a decision and every decision has consequences – good and bad. It’s your choice!

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