How to Build a Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Culture

Where do you start with efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion? Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas, considered by some as the father of diversity management, said “if the goal is not to assimilate diversity into the dominant culture but rather to build a culture that can digest unassimilated diversity, then you had better start by figuring out what your present culture looks like.”

Culture is often raised as an important factor for effective diversity management, but the challenging work to understand and evolve culture is often avoided in favor of training, system improvements, or other “bolt-on” programs.

These “one-size-fits-all” programs or initiatives may have an initial positive impact, but sustainability will be an issue as the behavior of team members continues to fall in line with the current expectations or behavioral norms of the organizational culture. Robert A. Cooke, Ph.D. , CEO of Human Synergistics, identified that “in many cases, what organizations are really facing are underlying organizational culture problems manifesting themselves as diversity and inclusion problems.”

Instead, the key to creating equitable organizations is a culture development program.

We strive for a culture of justice where right is rewarded, wrong is sanctioned and corrected, and everyone has access and the opportunity to make a difference. It is not possible to achieve these goals and optimize your diversity and inclusion journey without a meaningful understanding of culture and managing intentional culture-related change. Many diversity and inclusion improvement plans are oversimplified or flawed from the start due to four major reasons:

  1. The purpose of the diversity improvement effort is not clearly articulated nor connected to supporting the purpose or mission of the organization and related performance priorities.
  2. Assessment of the current state is based on surface-level measures of the work climate instead of a comprehensive exploration of the underlying culture, associated sub-cultures, how they emerged, and why they are so deeply entrenched.
  3. Change efforts are narrow in scope and focused on programs or initiatives that fall short of connecting learning and results for individuals, teams, and the overall organization.
  4. The design of change efforts does not guarantee shared learning through planned reflection, measurement, and refinement of improvement plans at defined periods.

Often the best way for creating equitable organizations is culture change. It is time to reframe diversity, equity, and inclusion improvement strategies through the lens of culture. The Human Synergistics framework should help you structure your approach.

diversity, equity, and inclusion improvement strategies

Phase 1: Understand “Why” – Discover and Align

Often, organizations jump to tactics regarding diversity scorekeeping and management without clearly defining why diversity improvement is essential. It’s not sufficient to say “it’s the right thing to do,” or, “it’s necessary to attract the best talent,” because most organizations do not exist to improve diversity or attract talent. The “why” should be clearly articulated and connected to the organization’s purpose or mission. Typical benefits of diversity and inclusion include:

  • Optimizing customer experience for a diverse marketplace
  • Understanding underserved market segments
  • Improving innovation and creativity
  • Solving problems faster and more effectively
  • Improving effectiveness in a global market
  • Accurately predicting customer demand
  • Improving team performance (which leads to better organizational performance)

These primary benefits are complemented by a wide range of secondary benefits, including attracting and retaining talent, improving engagement, and enhancing collaboration. Define a meaningful why for diversity management and the specific results or outcomes targeted for improvement. It’s fine to share research about the benefits of diversity management but diversity will not be institutionalized in your culture as a way of thinking and behaving until you prove the value in terms of enhancing targeted results or outcomes.

Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede referred to culture as “the collective programming of the mind.” In the case of diversity management, “reprogramming” is clearly necessary as groups learn inclusive approaches to deliver results. 

“Just as it would take an outsider to introduce water to a fish, it takes an objective and experienced professional to help leaders of an organization articulate and codify the collective culture. Insiders can’t see it because it is such a natural part of the environment that it is easy to overlook.”
~Dr. James O. Rodgers, The Diversity Coach

Phase 2: Build a Baseline – Enlist and Engage, Measure, and Analyze

When we are clear about our why, we can determine the aspects of our culture that are helping and hindering efforts to achieve the outcomes targeted for improvement. The frame to understand culture is not engagement, diversity scorecards, workplace satisfaction, or other surface measures.

These climate measures are visible manifestations of the culture. They may be useful but they do not provide the clarity necessary to understand “real” cultural attributes like shared beliefs, assumptions, and behavioral norms along with how they play out across different subcultures (race, gender, ability, age, sexual orientation, etc.).

The baseline culture assessment is a “full MRI” or “culture deep-dive” completed through a combination of qualitative (focus groups, interviews, history reviews with long service team members, etc.) and quantitative (culture and climate surveys) methods.

Complete the qualitative assessment first to understand current perceptions about the outcomes targeted for improvement, related cultural strengths and weaknesses, and aspects of the work climate (systems, structures, leadership approaches, etc.) reinforcing or encouraging the current cultural norms.  

Second, complete a quantitative assessment with a valid and reliable survey. Consider utilizing the globally recognized Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) and Organizational Effectiveness Inventory® (OEI) to gain a common language and measurement for culture and climate. It’s essential to measure the culture and climate holistically and without judgment. Summarize the results of the initial qualitative and quantitative steps to help transform the abstract into something others will understand with the shared language, data, stories, and examples.

Finally, complete a second qualitative review to probe findings and identify critical learnings with input from a diverse steering team or group to gain a thorough appreciation for the subcultures that exist, how they are reinforced, and how they impact results or outcomes.

Don’t underestimate the power of gaining a common language and measurement for culture. Over 40 years of research by Robert Cooke and his colleagues indicates that Constructive cultures—with behavioral norms like taking on challenging tasks, cooperating with others, and maintaining personal integrity—promote diversity, productive interpersonal relations, and the attainment of individual and organizational goals.

Organizations with strong Constructive norms perform better than those with predominately Passive/Defensive norms like accepting the status quo, never challenging superiors, and making “popular” rather than necessary decisions that suppress diversity, individual differences, and personal initiative. These Passive/Defensive norms may be more influential in under-represented groups as individuals attempt to fit in with the dominant culture.

Organizations with Constructive Cultures also perform better than organizations with primarily Aggressive/Defensive norms like competing rather than cooperating, opposing new ideas, maintaining an image of superiority and using the authority of one’s position, which emphasize differences but impede collaboration and integration.

Recent research, supported by Human Synergistics and published in one of the largest global culture studies (the OC Tanner 2020 Global Culture Report), highlights that we have a long way to go to build Constructive Cultures on a global scale.

Only 10% of respondents reported that the cultures of their organizations were primarily Constructive. Instead, 48% of them described their organization’s culture as primarily Passive/Defensive, and 42% of the respondents described their culture as primarily Aggressive/Defensive (access the 2020 Global Culture Report Supplement). The low reported frequency of Constructive Cultures should not be a surprise with the growing pressure in society to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

“Let’s create an environment where everyone will do their best work.”
~R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr.

Phase 3: Create Change – Debrief Results, Build Capability and Initiate Planning

The third phase involves the sharing of assessment results and engagement of groups in improvement planning. The summary of baseline results should include a particular emphasis on significant sub-culture similarities and differences.

Top leaders must begin to gain an appreciation of how cultural experiences vary across their team and how they are intentionally and unintentionally encouraging norms or unwritten rules that may be difficult to hear. Dr. Sondra Thiederman, a pioneer in diversity and expert in unconscious bias, said, “stay at the table while discomfort is being served.” This learning ideally will spark the definition of a bold but achievable vision that connects back to the outcomes targeted for improvement in Phase 1.

Refine the improvement vision from leadership with feedback from a diverse team and use it as inspiration for plans in three logical and parallel paths:

  1. Organization-Level Improvements – How will the strategy, structure, and operating systems of the organization be refined to support highly inclusive and effective plans to deliver the targeted outcomes and constructive behavior? Focus on the deficiencies identified in the qualitative and quantitative methods mentioned above.
  2. Individual-Level Improvements – How will individuals, starting with top leaders, obtain feedback on their behavior and learn the skills necessary to interact with others constructively? Utilize behavior-based assessments designed for development like the Leadership/Impact® (L/I), Management/Impact® (M/I), Life Styles Inventory® (LSI), and/or the ACUMEN® Leadership WorkStyles (LWS) as part of this process. This is also where foundational learning experiences about valuing differences and unconscious bias can be useful.
  3. Team-Level Improvements – How will specific improvement strategies be piloted to connect learning and results with one or more improvement teams? This third path is typically missing from diversity management strategies or covered by a generic diversity team. The purpose is to apply and learn from specific inclusive approaches to improve the primary outcomes targeted for improvement (customer experience, employee experience, innovation, etc.). The team will prove diverse and inclusive methods are more effective in a targeted area and spark or support the diversity management learning journey.

    Results and consequences are the feedback loops necessary for any new cultural attribute to form. This focused team approach increases the likelihood of delivering results connected explicitly to the “why” defined in Phase 1. Scale the team approach by intentionally spreading critical learnings to other groups at designated periods.

“The real problem with this corporate culture tree is that every time you go to make changes in the roots, you run into terrible opposition. Every culture, including corporate culture, has root guards that turn out in force every time you threaten a basic assumption.”
~Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr.

Phase 4: Learn & Sustain – Finalize Plans, Implement, Learn, and Adjust

While these tasks can be started in a “creating equitable organizations workshop,” the work can’t end there. Improvement plans should be organized and timelined with disciplined cycles of collective reflection, measurement of progress, and refinement of plans to guarantee shared learning. It’s common to have cycles of 6-12 months to allow for meaningful and measurable progress. Consider the following strategies:

  • Communicate the duration of the first cycle and commit to repeating selected aspects of the qualitative and quantitative methods applied in the baseline culture assessment at the end of it (see the example timeline below).
  • Start with the end in mind and set targets for improvement in each cycle. Capture improvement targets and plans in defined goals; track and communicate progress regularly.
  • Frequently share examples of Constructive behavior and results achieved by individuals, teams, and the overall organization.
  • Senior leaders must show they are committed to learning as part of their development plans.They must visibly and humbly listen, build relationships, and translate what they learn into action.
  • Focus the qualitative assessment, at the end of the cycle, on prioritized feedback about what’s improved, what hasn’t, and why.
  • Conduct culture and climate pulse surveys every 6 – 12 months and full remeasures every 18-24 months to understand how the culture and climate are evolving.
  • Hold involvement meetings or company meetings with large groups at the end of each cycle to share progress, obtain feedback, and refine improvement plans for the next cycle.

This graphic is a high-level, example timeline.

DEI timeline plan

Commit to Change and Take the First Step

The four phases are designed to support the connection of shared learning and results individually and collectively. Many leaders do not realize that the clearer they are about the culture and changes they’re targeting, the easier it is to make decisions, prioritize, set goals, and lead an organization with certainty and consistency.

There is nothing more challenging and rewarding as a leader than evolving your culture with intent. It’s worth the investment of time and energy, but you need a roadmap and, in some cases, a guide. Applying the four phases for culture and performance development may not guarantee success, but it will support learning in groups, improved clarity and alignment, and management of a comprehensive and shared roadmap for connecting culture, diversity, and performance improvement.

Change starts by deciding to take the first step. Take that step with confidence by applying a disciplined process and measures for diversity management through the lens of culture. And don’t forget, you don’t have to go it alone. Those creating equitable organizations with expert guidance get further faster.

“If you think there is going to be real conversations in this country, or in companies, or organizations around equity, diversity, and inclusivity while you remain comfortable, that is not going to happen. And it shouldn’t happen.”
~Brene Brown

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Learn more about improving your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts through the lens of culture. See our diversity, equity, and inclusion page for information about how the comprehensive OCI/OEI (culture and climate) assessment plus diversity supplementary module can help you gain a common language, prioritize improvements, and measure the progress of culture-related change. DEI consultants and change agents: see our culture accreditation workshop page to learn how you can add the OCI/OEI to your change efforts.

To embark on your next diversity and inclusion culture project, reach out to Human Synergistics now.

HRCI Leads by Example with Culture and Agile Transformation

Many studies highlight the need to focus on culture transformation to improve effectiveness. In the 2021 Deloitte Human Capital Trends survey, HR professionals identified “building an organizational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability, and resilience” as the most important action to transform work. Unfortunately, the journey to transform culture is challenging and rarely includes strategies, plans, and measures that bring clarity to the specific work involved.

The Human Resources Certification Institute® (HRCI®), headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, is the premier credentialing and learning organization for the human resources profession. Dr. Amy Dufrane, CEO of HRCI recognized the potential impact and value of culture transformation when a change in a strategic relationship crystallized the genesis of a new HRCI business model. The HRCI journey includes many learning examples for HR professionals and leaders regarding intentional and effective culture change.

hrci human & technological capability

Understanding the Ideal Culture

Amy stated, “as an organization we recognized the need to be clear about our culture and identify opportunities to target where we could evolve or improve.” In 2017, HRCI decided to use comprehensive culture and climate assessments from Human Synergistics. Jim Lewis, SPHR, GPHR, Human Synergistics accredited practitioner and HRCI Board member, brought the tools to HRCI. Using the Ideal form of the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI), senior leaders defined the behaviors and mindset that “should be expected” to make HRCI a sustainably high-performing organization. Leaders indicated a strong preference for norms for Constructive styles and related behaviors that promote effective goal setting, growth and learning, creativity and collaboration. Leaders did not value the Aggressive/Defensive styles assessed by the OCI that emphasize promoting one’s status and security via task-related behaviors; nor did they value the Passive/Defensive styles that implicitly require interacting with others in self-protective ways and maintaining one’s personal security.1

Organizational Culture Inventory® – Measures of Values and Norms

hrci oci values and norms

Understanding the Current Culture

All team members were asked to complete the Organizational Culture Inventory® and describe what was actually expected or required to fit in at HRCI. Their responses were aggregated and reported back in a manner that provided a language to discuss  the relative strength of the various behavioral norms, expectations or “unwritten rules” in the current culture. Some evidence of shared expectations for the Passive/Defensive behaviors–particularly in terms of the avoidant and dependent styles–were evident and reflected the belief that people should push decisions upward, take few chances, and avoid confrontations. Moderate expectations for the Aggressive/Defensive styles were also evident, especially the Perfectionistic Style in terms of keeping on top of everything and never making a mistake. Unfortunately, expectations for the Constructive Styles were weak in some areas, especially the Self-Actualizing style in terms of communicating ideas and thinking in unique and independent ways.

A culture disconnect was confirmed. The day-to-day norms (the organization’s operating culture or current culture) differed from, or were out of alignment with, its values (represented by the ideal culture). This occurs when certain structures, systems, characteristics of jobs, and leadership approaches found in the work climate (and built up over an organization’s history) are inconsistent with and/or run counter to stated values.

Understanding the Current Work Climate

Most organizations do not differentiate between measuring the work climate and culture as they administer engagement, great place to work, or other assessments that measure only the former. These surveys may be useful but typically measure only a fraction of the systems, structures, and leadership approaches reinforcing the current culture. HRCI team members completed the Organizational Effectiveness Inventory® (OEI), a comprehensive climate survey administered with the culture survey, to measure 31 causal factors or “levers for change,” and 12 outcomes, including satisfaction, motivation, quality, and adaptability. The results for most of the causal factors were around the historical average, but eight were substantially lower, including employee involvement, empowerment, respect for members, and upward communication. Five of 12 outcomes were significantly below the historical average, including role clarity, satisfaction, organization-level quality, and external adaptability.

Providing Context-History

It is easier to connect the dots and make sense of the current culture if you understand and consider the history. Long-service HRCI team members identified many strengths that helped with change efforts. Team members consistently exhibited high integrity and ethics, loyalty, and dedication. They also were caring, friendly, collaborative, and supportive to the level where you could turn to anyone for help. The sense of “everyone pitching in” was in some ways a blessing and a curse because there were many culture challenges that endured, including trying to do too many things, pivoting often, and moving fast to the point where things could fall through the cracks.

Charting a Path Forward

At the same time the business model was quickly changing, the Board and Executive Leadership Team focused on evolving the vision and strategy. Amy emphasized the importance of having a growth mindset and recognized that some strategies might not work out. A cross-functional Culture Club led efforts to support HRCI values and remove barriers to advancing the culture.

Improvements covered five major areas:

  1. Increased strategic connection with customers and team members – A CEO hrci team outdoorAdvisory Council played an important role in influencing major strategies and plans. Customer feedback drove new products and HRCI created many resources to educate and provide value, including expanded certifications, online courses, podcasts, and webinars. Team member and customer feedback informed the definition of a comprehensive VSEM (Vision, Strategy, Execution, and Metrics) framework.
  2. Consistent measurement and language for culture and levers for change in the work climate – The HRCI team now had a clear understanding of their values, the gap relative to the norms or expectations driving the behavior of team members, and the levers in the work climate that were contributing to this gap.
  3. Increased emphasis on structured involvement, cross-functional teams, and recognition – HRCI formed not only the Culture Club but many other cross-functional teams as well, fostering a sense of inclusion and ownership with significant strategies and plans. They empowered teams to take action, obtain support from executive leadership, and provide updates to all team members. HRCI added employee recognition mechanisms (including a prominent employee recognition board in the office) and increased team and department events throughout the year. A “kudos” section was added to Town Hall meetings where team members could recognize above and beyond accomplishments by their colleagues.
  4. Open, consistent, and transparent communication from leadership – This area of focus underpinned many change efforts. Amy shared weekly (yes, weekly!) “CEO messages” with all team members. HR, IT, and Marketing provided weekly updates, and Executive Leadership led town halls to foster two-way communication. They emphasized encouraging a safe environment for positive conflict and problem-solving.
  5. Introduced Agile to bring structure to many projects – Agile is a good fit for HRCI and the HR field. Amy explains, “our customer is HR, and it changes constantly. Agility is at the center of what’s needed in HR, and we need to be at least as agile as our clients.” They started with a small group and a DevOps team. The work expanded to include training the entire organization on utilizing Agile. They launched additional teams that moved quickly and kept people informed along the way.

These five areas stood out, but improvement efforts expanded far beyond. Culture change is not for the faint of heart, and no short list of improvements will do justice to the work involved. Additional enhancements included:

  • Defining a revised set of values and expected behaviors,
  • Assessing and developing individuals and teams with a special emphasis on developing leaders that are listeners and communicators,
  • Implementing a new performance appraisal system,
  • Implementing new hire and orientation systems. There was a focus on filling open positions with intent, especially leadership roles, to support their values and ideal culture, and
  • Forming a Happy Squad to coordinate fun activities.

hrci culture journey v4

Confirming Progress and Continuing the Journey

In 2019, HRCI took the critical step of remeasuring the culture and climate with the OCI/OEI surveys. They confirmed their culture was evolving in a constructive direction. All four Constructive styles increased by at least 20 percentiles. The Humanistic-Encouraging style increased by 39 percentiles, including stronger expectations to encourage others, help others grow and develop, and resolve conflicts constructively. All eight Defensive styles decreased by at least 15 percentiles. The Oppositional style dropped by 37 percentiles, including weaker expectations to oppose things indirectly, be hard to impress, and oppose new ideas.

The levers for cultural change and outcomes, as re-assessed by the OEI climate survey, also improved substantially. 19 of 31 levers for change that influence and reinforce the current culture improved by at least 25 percentiles, including articulation of mission, involvement, empowerment, respect for members, downward communication, and upward communication.

10 of 12 outcomes improved by at least 20 percentiles, including role clarity, satisfaction, stress (reduced stress), organization-level quality, and external adaptability. HRCI had the discipline to refine their improvements to the work climate based on a clear understanding of the underlying culture, ultimately influencing outcomes for individuals, teams, and the overall organization.

hrci culture-climate change v4

The chart above highlights the scope of the transformation and its impact on both culture and outcomes. The HRCI team shared the results in a town hall meeting and targeted additional improvements to continue their Constructive culture journey. The story could end there, but 2020 was a year when all cultures would be tested.

Culture Fuels a Major Business Pivot

Like most organizations, HRCI was dramatically impacted by the pandemic as test centers closed and the team pivoted to remote work. HRCI has a history of changing quickly, but this time the systems and culture had evolved to a place that helped with the shift.

Frequent and open communication continued, the workforce transitioned to consistent use of Microsoft Teams, and Agile teams supported major changes like implementing online proctoring and a new learning platform. Team members provided positive feedback about how leadership supported many shifts without blaming or finger-pointing.

It was a challenging time, and HRCI did not take the importance of culture for granted. They were one of the first users of the unique Culture Mirror from Human Synergistics. It’s  not a measure of culture but rather a brief survey about emerging patterns of behavior (during crises such as the pandemic) and outcomes related to teamwork and adaptability. 

Amy shared her thinking about the decision to proceed with the Culture Mirror. “We were disconnected physically, and we needed to understand if we digressed. We focused on areas we had worked so hard to improve upon, and we didn’t want to slip backwards.”

The Culture Mirror results confirmed some emerging constructive patterns of behavior were stronger than the cultural norms reported in their last survey and were helping with the changes, especially Self-Actualizing behaviors related to communicating ideas and thinking in unique and independent ways (two of the weakest constructive norms in the 2017 survey). Some defensive patterns of behavior were weaker (better) than at the time of the last culture survey, especially Conventional behaviors related to accepting the status quo and casting aside solutions that seem risky or different. Team members also reported improved results for outcomes related to teamwork and external adaptability.

hrci teamwork & adaptability v4

Amy summed up how the Constructive culture foundation built before the pandemic enabled her team to deal with tremendous change. “There is no way we would have been able to adapt as quickly as we did if we had not invested the time to understand and evolve our culture collectively.”

The Impact – HRCI and the HR Industry

The Constructive culture journey at HRCI has positively influenced business results in many ways. Customer net promotor scores improved, recertification rates improved, and learning product sales exceeded growth targets.  It is notable that HRCI was able to remain profitable during the pandemic because they had the mechanisms in place to be agile and pivot swiftly.    

The impact of a Constructive culture does not end within the walls of an organization. HRCI has a significant impact on the HR field. More than 500,000 HR professionals have earned certifications from HRCI, including certification holders in more than 125  countries. Nevertheless, the journey to improve the HRCI culture is not over.

It will require regular attention to support the HRCI mission: “We enable people and organizations to discover, develop, and demonstrate their fullest potential through innovative learning and certification in the ever-evolving world of HR.” Amy stated, “We cannot constructively impact the culture of the HR industry without continuing to evolve the HRCI culture. The only way we will maximize our impact is if we continue to be intentional and progressive with our culture, strategy, and improvement plans.”

Learning from the HRCI Journey

There are many lessons learned from the HRCI journey that serve as a guide for others:

  1. Be clear about your vision, strategy for improvement, and why culture will play a role in maximizing impact.
  2. Understand your current culture and climate through a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. Go beyond traditional climate surveys (engagement, great workplace, etc.) and understand aspects of the culture itself, like values and norms, and why they are so deeply entrenched.
  3. Use team-based approaches to engage all levels in the improvement process, including the board and all members.hrci team approach
  4. Implement teams, systems, and structures that support creativity and innovation (like Agile) but supplement them with improvements in other areas that impact culture. Many organizations may depend on Agile, Lean, or another improvement approach without understanding culture and what’s necessary to evolve it with intent.
  5. Implement communication habits to stay on the same page and highlight when changes to plans are needed. Communicate frequently and openly up and down the organization.
  6. Clarify expectations for leaders and fill open positions with the intent to support your values and ideal culture. Culture and leadership are two sides of the same coin.
  7. Measure progress to confirm how the culture and climate are evolving and inform the next phase of improvement. Maintain this discipline despite competing priorities and significant disruptions.

Are you managing an intentional culture and performance improvement journey? Use our 12-Question Culture and Performance Challenge to understand if your current approach is covering basic culture assessment and change best practices.

Editor’s Notes:
To support shared-learning with your CEO and top HR leaders, consider these references:

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with HR colleagues and comment on social media.

 

Reference:
1 The Constructive, Passive/Defensive, and Aggressive/Defensive cultural styles discussed here are adapted from R. A. Cooke and J. Clayton Lafferty, Organizational Culture Inventory®, Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics. The current and ideal norms describing these styles are survey items from the Organizational Culture Inventory (copyright 1987) and are used by the author with permission.

Culture Change Starts with You

Many think culture is a deep and complex topic. It helps to break it down into understandable parts.

The first lesson about meaningful culture change is that it starts with you, whether you are a leader, change agent, consultant, or all of the above.1 When reflecting on culture, many top leaders think about how their team members must change. Individual contributors or other managers may think about how their boss or senior leaders must change. The reality is that intentional culture change can be sparked at any level by one person committing to build relationships, learn, and improve with others.2 It’s a better path than the frustration and stress associated with judging others and trying to make them change.

Attempting to understand and evolve culture is not for the faint of heart. Culture can be the unstoppable force to maximize your organization’s potential, or it can crush your soul. What mindset and knowledge do you need to understand one of the most powerful forces in organizations and translate that knowledge to meaningful action?

Commit to a Learning Mindset

“Everything someone says and does makes sense to them. If you don’t understand it, you have some learning to do.”
–Andy Stanley

Culture is like a puzzle you never completely solve. You may put the pieces together and know more, but there are always parts of the puzzle you don’t even know exist. A commitment to learning is necessary on two significant fronts.

  1. Learn about culture – what it is, how it is created, and how it evolves: The more I understand about culture, the more I realize how much I still don’t understand. It’s essential to turn away from superficial or exotic solutions and ground yourself in fundamental truths about what culture is, how it is created, and how it evolves. We need frames to help us understand and think about culture so we can cut through the confusion.

    Consider the following resources:

  2. Learn from your inner dialogue and remain constructive: We grow up trapped in the expectations of others (parents, friends, classmates, etc.) and then we transition to the working world where the expectations from peers, bosses, and others often close tighter around us. We’re used to trying to fit in as we’re bombarded by cultural norms. One path to understand culture is to understand the culture battlefield in our mind. Eckart Tolle said, “there is nothing that shows up that is not teaching you something.” What’s driving your thinking and emotions? Where do you sense yourself jumping to a conclusion about others or listening to the self-critical voice in your head? By definition, culture is a group thing, but we can start understanding it by understanding ourselves and the beliefs we hold that others may share.

If you change your mindset, it can reduce judgmental inclinations as curiosity takes over with a consistent effort to learn. It is possible to reframe the world to make sense of it as you use the lens of culture.  Courage, disciplined action and the love of others are all necessary to make the most of what you learn.

Courage

“Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous or honest.” –Maya Angelou

A growing appreciation and understanding of culture is of little use without translating it into action. As your knowledge about culture grows, it’s like you have your hand on the rudder of a boat and can have a magnified impact on results. 

We learn who we are and what we are capable of through the courage to take the initiative. Courage with culture-related change takes many forms – asking questions, listening, reflecting, involving others, raising a concern, asking for feedback, empowering others, problem-solving, and taking action or not.

The culture change agent will proactively make something happen when everyone else is knowingly or unknowingly preserving the status quo. There is an inherent risk in cutting against the cultural grain, and you will be judged or even punished. It’s essential to be intentional as you reflect, learn, and take action in groups instead of trying to be a maverick.

Persistent and Disciplined Action

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
–Walt Disney

Understand the inevitable culture change grind and be comfortable being uncomfortable. Expect the pushback and roadblocks. You will likely feel like Sisyphus rolling a boulder uphill only to see it roll back down the hill time and time again.

Work through the frustration that will inevitably come by trying anything new and significant. Culture can play out in irrational and unreasonable ways. Don’t expect constructive behavior and approaches to be rewarded. As you encounter obstacles, learn from the inner debate in your mind as you think through approaches to build relationships and take constructive action. You will be tempted to vent your frustration and “go negative,” but doing so rarely pays off. Deliberate, consistent, and constructive action with others is far more likely to be effective.

You need rock-solid perseverance and tenacity grounded in thoughtful action with groups. It is possible to design change efforts to guarantee learning through disciplined cycles of planning, improvement, collective reflection, and refinement of plans.

The Love of Others

The most important part of this culture change agent formula is not the commitment to learning, the courage to take the initiative, or disciplined and persistent action. It’s summed up in a famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, “life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?”

This culture change lesson is about “you,” but the motivation and relentless internal drive must be to help others. The belief in yourself will carry you forward as you see the possibilities to make a difference with others.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” –Mahatma Ghandi

 

Resources: Learn more about effective culture-related change by referring to our recently updated version of the 90-Day Culture and Performance Quick Start Program or attend our Culture Accreditation Workshop.

References:

1 Quinn, R.E., 1996. Deep Change – Discovering the Leader Within, San Francisco: Jossey Bass

2 Lafferty, J. C., 2013. Life Styles InventoryTM Self-Development Guide

How to Spark Sustainable Change Through Disruption and Crises

What is your organization’s new normal during the COVID-19 crisis? Are you feeling proud about the work of your leadership? Are you doing things you never dreamed possible or are you struggling with team members who are lost and confused? What story will you tell when the COVID-19 pandemic is in the past and will you make the most of the experience now?

History will show this period may be one of the greatest learning opportunities that organizations will ever have. The stakes are high; the decisions that CEOs make will determine the trajectory of their organization, not only for the next few months, but for the next few years. Deeply entrenched cultural norms are being temporarily set aside, or even disrupted—and the collective untapped potential in many organizations is being unleashed. As the crisis subsides, will your leaders drift back to the habits, systems, and expectations of the past or will they continue with a learning mindset to support sustainable change?

COVID-19 is Unique

There is a pattern that’s far different from the financial crisis, 9/11, or other global disruptions. COVID-19 is revealing a more humane approach to dealing with crisis within many organizations. Individuals have united to support each other, their customers, and their community in ways they never thought would be possible. This is exemplified by numerous stories about, not only front-line responders and care givers, but also those in manufacturing, distribution, and other organizations. This includes  Braskem America, where the Washington Post recently reported on the 43 workers at their Pennsylvania plant who decided to temporarily live at the factory, keep two 12-hour shifts operating continuously for a month, and produce millions of pounds of the raw materials required to manufacture face masks and surgical gowns. Now is the time for leaders and teams to reflect and understand why they are responding either effectively or ineffectively as an organization. By understanding a few essential culture principals and applying a change framework, recent improvements can be sustained over time.

Crisis and Culture

The following fundamental truths that we know about culture emerge in unique ways during a crisis.

  1. Culture is built and evolves through shared learning and reflection

    Organizations can change dramatically when responding to crises. In a 2016 article on this topic in the Harvard Business Review, Jay Lorsch and Emily McTague describe how culture can change as leaders put into place new processes and structures to deal with challenges. However, improvements in working patterns can be the result of other factors such as employees seeing “their contributions to society in a whole new light.” When this is the case, the more positive climate may be temporary and things will revert back to the legacy culture unless leaders take action.

    Henry Mintzberg introduced the field of management to the need for reflection, particularly when the pressures are to instead just “go-go-go.” Similarly, Edgar Schein has noted, “reflection is the key to learning and reflection is what we often rule out because we are too busy.”

    We’re typically caught in the whirlwind of work and it’s spinning at a dizzying pace during this crisis. The main question to be answered is whether we will be able to find a way to plan disciplined reflection, capture shared learnings, and refine COVID-19 recovery plans.

    “Change is the end result of all true learning.” –Leo Buscaglia

  2. Team members “act on what they know” in a Constructive culture

    I heard this insight from a mentor many years ago. “Acting on what we know” captures the experience of living up to our potential as we collaborate effectively with others. Doing so is encouraged and supported by Constructive cultures. Unfortunately, in the world of work, we may not always act on what we know. What we truly believe may not be exhibited in our behavior as culture and Defensive norms tend to hijack our minds. We hesitate due to fear or uncertainty and self-doubt grows. We listen to this voice of self-doubt in our heads and stop. We don’t speak up, we stay quiet, and our ideas never emerge.

    So, what’s different in a crisis? With COVID-19 there’s a lot that’s different. The business disruption that has taken place is intertwined with a global health crisis, and many leaders are showing genuine empathy and care for their employees, other businesses, and their customers. The cultural divide that often exists between top leaders and the rest of their organization is blurring. We are seeing examples of behavior being driven by fundamental human values that connect us all.

    There’s also a greater focus on shared purpose and goals instead of individual problems. We are seeing leaders stepping up for their employees and business. It’s key to understand why team members may be reacting more constructively and what unshakable beliefs have suddenly been shaken.

    “Our society needs to re-establish a culture of caring.” –Nelson Mandela

  3. Results and consequences are the reinforcement loops needed for any new cultural attribute (e.g., belief, norm) to take hold

    Feedback loops are crucial when dealing with culture change because in a crisis, there is a rapid connection between decisions and results. It’s important to reflect and capture shared learnings as an input to disciplined action to make the most of these rapid feedback cycles.

    “Change starts with a choice to put meaningful
    learning to action.”
    –Kevin Kruse

Three Steps for Culture Change

What leaders need is a targeted approach that offers immediate benefits to translate meaningful learning to action, thus setting the stage for sustainable change.

Step 1 – Evaluate the current state

Start by engaging a team to provide unstructured feedback about what’s working, what’s not, and why. It’s important to allow the group to take the conversation where they want it to go to explore the current state but ask about the patterns of behavior that are emerging in the crisis.

Using Human Synergistics “How Culture Works” model, you can bring some structure to the conversation to let the group connect the patterns of behavior to the systems, structures, and leadership approaches that are encouraging or reinforcing them.

Step 2 – Survey to capture patterns of behavior

Use a brief survey to quickly engage organizational members on a larger scale, confirm some of the information gathered, and surface new insights. The survey will also help bring a common language and measurement to the process.

Human Synergistics created the Culture Mirror™ to assist in this step. It is not a measure of culture (I.e., norms or beliefs) but rather captures and provides a snapshot of the patterns of behavior prevailing within an organization at this point in time. Robert A. Cooke developed the Culture Mirror by selecting items (behaviors) from his Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®), that have demonstrated a particularly strong positive or negative relationship to organizational adaptability and innovation. For organizations that have previously used the OCI, results on the Culture Mirror will show whether the current patterns of interaction within the organization reflect (or do not reflect) their pre-pandemic culture. For organizations that have not, the Culture Mirror results provide feedback on the current interpersonal climate and a baseline for evaluating the results of a future administration of the survey. Either way, the Mirror quantifies and provides a language for understanding the current state of the organization, identifying the dimensions that are attractive and effective, and discussing steps to be taken to sustain those features and bake them into the culture.

Step 3 – Refine recovery plans and deliver outcomes

The best decisions are built on having the most useful information. Steps 1 and 2 will provide the clarity necessary to refine your COVID-19 recovery plans as a step toward embedding positive culture change. They help transform the abstract into something leaders can understand and translate to three meaningful outcomes.

  • Capture shared learnings (write them down!)

    Team members should be engaged in a facilitated process that summarizes the lessons gained from the exploration and survey results. What were the initial key learnings from the exploration in Step 1? What did the survey results illuminate regarding the effective and ineffective behaviors emerging during the crisis and their impact on the outcomes? Confirm the shared learnings resonate across various levels and teams.

  • Plan for recovery

    Discuss the shared learnings and brainstorm next steps to refine COVID-19 recovery plans and other short-term initiatives. Clearly prioritize, document, and communicate the lessons learned and related refinements across your team so everyone learns from the process.

  • Embed positive change

    It’s imperative to do what’s necessary to perpetuate patterns of emerging Constructive behaviors so you don’t revert back. Cooke notes, “Leaders optimally should discuss, learn, and plan what to do to retain new behaviors or bring them out going forward.”

    Sustainable change will depend on understanding the pre-crisis patterns of behavior and underlying beliefs along with what was reinforcing or encouraging them. Review each key learning and reflect on why it took a crisis to bring it out or to translate it to action. Capture some of the most significant systems, structures, job characteristics, and leadership approaches that were promoting the pre-crisis patterns of behavior. Identify initiatives that are  necessary and feasible in the short-term to begin to embed positive change and those that will need to wait until the crisis begins to subside.

The above process can be implemented in two weeks or less but a thorough culture assessment and performance improvement effort will be beneficial at a later date. The longer-term improvements may be addressed at that time.


“Culture change happens at the intersection of curiosity and courage.” –Tim Kuppler


Why Implement a Plan for Culture Change During COVID-19

Jim Rohn said, “Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by choice.” Choose to go through these steps because it will make your organization better. The stakes are high and it’s important to have the courage to proceed. Don’t go back to the “normal” of the past as you crave certainty; find and sustain your new normal through intentional action.

To assist you with next steps, be sure to see the Culture Mirror landing page for a 2-minute video, targeted process and customizable templates you may use to reflect, learn, and refine improvement plans.

Lastly, if you’d like to assess how COVID-19 is affecting your current culture, reach out to Human Synergistics culture experts at info@humansynergistics.com and receive a free consultation today.

Top Ten Culture Posts of 2018 on CultureUniversity.com

CultureUniversity.com was launched in 2014 to cut through misinformation related to culture and culture change, and it has grown into an essential educational resource for leaders and change agents.

Ten new posts garnered the highest traffic in 2018, and my personal top insight from each post is captured in the list below.

#10 – Dealing with Uncertainty in an Era of Disruption

By Larry Senn

Larry Senn is clearly a pioneer in the culture space, and we’re fortunate to have him share his wisdom on CultureU. This post doesn’t disappoint as Larry guides us in dealing with uncertainty.

My favorite point came at the close of this excellent post: “You choose how you respond.” Larry continues, “Recognize that in life and business, a fair amount of surprises will cross your path, and some may come with immense challenges. When that happens, remember: Stop. Think. Decide. Only you can make a conscious decision to take a more effective course of action.” Change agents will inevitably run into major roadblocks and frustration when dealing with culture challenges, and it’s tempting to take the easy out and “go negative.” Larry reminds us to “stay positive,” because “people tend to gravitate toward positive people” and you’ll be better equipped to “come up with solutions to problems and solve key issues.”

#9 – Framework for a New Leadership Culture

By Graham Williams and Eva Marie Cooper

This comprehensive post covers a framework for a new leadership culture that’s necessary to support an important shift in the operating model of organizations. Two points stood out to me toward the end of the post. First, Graham and Eva referenced using “projects as incubators of the required leadership characteristics” like freedom of action, adventure, discovery, trust, collaboration, empowerment and “sharing of everything.” Most underestimate how difficult it is for individuals to shift their behavior when confronted with the power of the current culture. Intentional, shared approaches using “projects as incubators” are far better than general leadership development or change management approaches. The authors further refined their guidance in the second standout point by emphasizing the importance of “engaging with rather than managing both internal and external stakeholders.”

#8 – Culturally Intelligent Change

By Donna Brighton

Donna, an expert in the important connection of culture and change management, shared “15 key culture actions” as part of an excellent visual:

15 Key Culture Actions

She stressed how they should be “layered into an existing change approach” and can also be “used as a checklist to ensure that these critical actions are part of the Change Management Strategy and Plans.”

#7 – A Template for Organizational Culture Change

By Tom Kayser

I loved Tom’s deeper dive on Edgar Schein’s three-level model for culture. Everybody wants to learn how to change culture or improve without understanding some of the classic models that help us grasp important aspects of culture. Tom expands on Schein’s model with further explanation about how basic underlying assumptions can conflict with espoused values or may “not align properly to reinforce and facilitate success of a visible artifact.” The reality is that leaders in most organizations haven’t taken the time to understand the basic underlying assumptions driving the behavior they see on the surface. 

#6 – The Impact of Trust on Corporate Culture

By Barbara Brooks Kimmel

Barbara is CEO and Cofounder of Trust Across America-Trust Around the World and a tireless trust expert and advocate. She doesn’t disappoint with her sharing of “universal trust-building principles.” These Trust Alliance Principles (TAP) follow the TAP INTO TRUST acronym. My favorite principle is the final “T” for Tracking: “We define and scorecard our performance against our value and values — we measure both.” It’s unbelievably rare for leaders to measure how well they are “living” their values and whether they are consistent with the norms or “unwritten rules” driving the majority of behavior in the workplace.

#5 – Fake Culture

By Scott Beilke

Scott warns us, “Culture is caught not taught, reinforced not announced.” He shares some interesting examples, and one that stood out to me was the story of how an executive reacted in an ineffective meeting. The person leading the meeting wasn’t prepared and the leader was frustrated with the lack of productivity, so she took over the meeting. Her team member didn’t learn how to improve and, next time, he’s more likely to step back than to step up and improve. Many well-intentioned leaders are appropriately focused on the outcome while forgetting that culture is not “taught” but “learned through observation and experience.”

#4 – The Three Levels of Change Required to Shift Culture

By Jerome Parisse-Brassens

What are the three levels? The answer is organization, team and individual. Where do you start? Jerome correctly emphasizes that change is required at all three levels, “often at the same time,” or you may risk “sending contradicting messages about what’s important.” Many top leaders are comfortable working at the organization level but struggle with how to cascade changes to individual work teams. Jerome shared the Kurt Lewin quote, “The immediate social group is the greatest determinant of behavior.” Change may start at the top with the executive team, but many top teams go too far, making decisions without a clear approach to drive engagement, empowerment, learning and results with supporting teams and individuals.

#3 – How Visible and Invisible Forces Shape Culture

By Marlene Chism

Marlene shares a crucial point from an interview of Edgar Schein: “Culture is what a group learns as its way of surviving and both getting along internally and solving its problems externally. What’s usually missing is understanding how the external environment influences culture.” She cited the example of the decision by the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods to stop selling assault rifles at a time when the country was “divided over second amendment rights, gun control and public safety.” Many leaders and change agents view culture as an internal dynamic without understanding external influences and problems that need to be solved.

#2 – Southwest Airlines Reveals 5 Culture Lessons

By Kristin Robertson

The “culture lessons” cover critical areas like leadership, empowerment, appreciation and the need to “evolve your culture.” My favorite part of the post is the impressive summary of business results. Southwest Airlines may be the ultimate culture poster child with their sustainable, culture-driven results in a difficult industry, which include:

  • 44 consecutive years of profitability

  • #1 lowest number of customer complaints

  • 2.4% voluntary turnover

  • 85% of employees reporting that they’re proud to work for Southwest

  • No layoffs, no furloughs ever

What outcomes or results are you focused on influencing due to your culture-related improvements?

#1 – 7 Essential Insights Normally Missed in Culture Change Efforts

By Tim Kuppler

This was the 200th post on CultureUniversity.com. I still believe “we’re living in the absolute best time in history to be involved in meaningful culture change.” Make the most of it and be intentional about how you engage people in your change effort. My favorite “insight” is the focus on “uniting the organization to support the purpose and top priorities.” This concept of “uniting the organization” behind growth, quality, customer experience or other targeted business outcomes or results has always resonated with top leaders. This insight may be the key to a strong culture and performance connection, but the final “essential insight” is turning out to be the difference between success and failure, even if the other six insights are covered.

7 Essential Insights Normally Missed in Culture Change Efforts

Insight #7 was to “plan on the resistance and learning from it together.” I can’t recall a single culture-related change effort I have been involved in over the last 20 years where this wasn’t the case. “The resistance” can include:

  • Senior leadership’s attention being pulled to a new priority or opportunity

  • Lack of clarity regarding individual or shared responsibility to champion or facilitate improvement plans

  • Team members feeling uncomfortable moving forward with improvement plans without top leadership approval and, often, difficulties in coordinating that approval or support

My advice to “get used to the culture grind and don’t stop or dramatically reduce change efforts” continues to ring true, and it is inevitably part of culture change efforts in some form.

Edgar Schein gave me the following feedback about one of my blog posts and why culture change is so hard: “People forget that what they now have is what they learned, what made them successful, what they have settled for. They are then surprised that culture change is so hard, but at least they now understand why it is so hard.”

Thank you and the future

2019 will be a big year for CultureUniversity.com, as well as for ConstructiveCulture.com (our sister culture blog — see the 2018 Top Ten post here), our monthly Ultimate Culture Webinars, scaling The Culture Journey Learning Experience globally, and much more. We’ll be zeroing in on specific “how to” content and sharing thorough case studies and examples designed to accelerate the culture learning curve.

Thank you to all our contributing authors—more than 70 and counting in our history of nearly five years. CultureU wouldn’t exist without your interest in sharing what you have learned. CultureU continues to be part of a movement to change the way the world thinks about culture and culture change.

One final “thank you” goes to all our readers. Your interest in culture and sharing of content on social media are a major part of the journey.

Seven Top Culture Insights from the 1st Regional Ultimate Culture Conference

In 2015, we at Human Synergistics hosted our inaugural Annual Ultimate Culture Conference to bring visibility to important insights from culture pioneers and progressive leaders. Though that event and the following 2nd and 3rd conferences sparked outstanding feedback and learning, we felt there was an opportunity to translate more of the learnings to action by building on relationships that already exist in regions and local communities.

We shifted our focus to regional culture conferences in partnership with major universities, and in September, we collaborated with the University of Wisconsin Center for Professional and Executive Development (CPED) to host our 1st Regional Ultimate Culture Conference. The following seven “ultimate culture insights” made an impact with the passionate audience of culture experts and change agents.

  1. “Employees don’t believe what they see on the walls; they believe what they see in the halls.”

    Tracy Nelson, Vice President of Learning & Development at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shared this unambiguous language about the reality of culture in the workplace and stressed the importance of what employees “see in the halls.” It’s great for leaders to invest the time in sharing their mission, vision and values, but it’s even more important to understand how team members are behaving and what expectations, norms or “unwritten rules” are driving that behavior. For example, “If I make a mistake, should I admit it or sweep it under the rug?” “Do I feel comfortable sharing my ideas or speaking up?”

    People in most organizations interpret and talk about this behavior “in the halls” in many ways, so it may be difficult to translate this collective knowledge to action. I have referenced the “culture measurement illusion” before: It is rare for organizations to understand, measure and define a common language for the underlying culture in terms of beliefs, assumptions and behavioral norms (the “unwritten” rules driving the behavior they see on the surface). Many think they are doing this work with a survey focusing on factors like engagement, satisfaction, or great workplace using so-called “culture assessments,” but these are nearly all, by definition, work climate assessments.

  2. Culture is always growing and evolving. You need to understand if you are growing “good culture” or something that turns out to be toxic.

    Steve Lipton, Partner with Wipfli and leader of their Performance Consulting, talked about the “culture petri dish.” He emphasized that, in addition to the overall culture, there are many sub-cultures that need to be understood. You can hope that you’re growing a “good” or Constructive culture, but if you don’t take the time to understand it, there could be very negative attributes evolving beneath the surface. These points resonated with me.

    Many leaders avoid the work to understand culture because they think their culture is “good” or they don’t have any problems. These leaders are totally missing the power of intentional culture development to improve or sustain performance when it’s viewed as a strategic priority. Most organizations unfortunately lack an understanding of how their current culture is impacting major mission or performance priorities. This undermines efforts to engage and unite team members as leaders struggle with defensive norms that, based on the work of Robert Cooke and J. Clayton Lafferty, may range from internal competition and opposition to avoidant, dependent and conventional expectations. All organizations should see value in understanding their current culture as a foundation for effectively dealing with increased complexity, overcoming challenges and improving effectiveness.1

  3. “Your supervisor is more important to your health than your physician.”

    Angie Zeigler, Vice President of Talent Management at Oshkosh, shared this shocking point from the Mayo Clinic. It was part of her presentation on People-First Culture Transformation. The journey at Oshkosh, a 101-year-old company, included the decision to start with their top 100 leaders and understanding the gap between their “Ideal Culture” and “Current Culture” using the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®).1, 2 A Culture and Development Roadmap was defined across all leadership levels, including specific competency and behavior development programs for senior leaders, middle managers and front-line leaders.

    Oshkosh - Mayo Clinic

    Angie emphasized the importance of synching leader and manager development with efforts to understand and evolve the overall culture. Many organizations experience challenges with behavior and jump to deliver well-intended training or development efforts. Leaders may learn new skills and approaches via such efforts but struggle to translate them into action when they are back on the job and bombarded by cultural norms that may be very inconsistent with what they learned. It’s easy to look away from inclusive approaches and revert to a “just get it done” mindset when faced with the cultural realities in many organizations.

  4. Leaders need to obtain feedback to understand how they are reinforcing the current culture and act on what they learn.

    Marti Wronski, General Counsel and Senior Vice President with the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, shared: “Successful transformation happens when the majority of people in the company have aligned beliefs and when proper leadership mindsets fuel consistent action.” A key part of their culture journey was involving each senior leader in utilizing the Leadership/Impact® assessment to understand the “Ideal Impact” they want to have on the behavior of others and how that compares to their “Current Impact.” 3 The Brewers obtained expert external help to support the process, which included group work with the senior leadership team and one-on-ones with each senior leader.

     

    Marti warned that this is “serious work,” and “the Culture Bus is not for the faint of heart.” Their culture journey may still be in progress, but Brewers fans have plenty to be proud about with the team’s return to the playoffs for the first time in seven years and falling one game short of a World Series birth.

  5. “Individuals are at different points of competence in understanding differences.”

    This insight came from Binnu Palta Hill, Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and it is critical for understanding the complexity of culture. She continued, “we lack a shared understanding” as we fill in assumptions.

    This insight hit home with me because leaders must understand this “filling in assumptions” will take place as team members work together. Judgements and conclusions can run wild if there aren’t consistent approaches to involving team members, facilitating upward communication and acting on what you learn. This is especially true when cross-functional work is needed and gaps in collaboration, communication or other critical areas emerge. Relationships may not be developed across groups to the point where team members are comfortable sharing concerns and ideas. Team members may not speak openly but, rest assured, the “filling in of assumptions” and judgements will continue in their minds. We can understand the norms, beliefs and assumptions driving the behavior we see on the surface only if we invest in intentional culture assessment and development efforts. It may take time, but consistent, inclusive efforts will be positively received by most individuals and will build shared understanding and reduce this “filling in of assumptions.”

  6. “The five-percenters should not dictate whether you take a risk.”

    I loved this point from Madison Chief of Police, Michael Koval. He talked about how he focuses on getting 95% of people along with him and then strong leadership “rules the day.” There are always naysayers and critics that will find problems with any idea. He shared, “Police forces are the most loathe-to-change institutions.” They must deal with mega-lawsuits, legislative mandates and problems “jettisoned off social media.” It was inspiring to hear him talk about being customer-focused on every call and his Notre Dame football team-inspired slogan of “police like a champion today.”

  7. It’s critical for you to “be on your mental game” as a change agent.

  8. This insight came from Tricia Downing, motivational speaker, consultant, athlete and the first female paraplegic to finish an Iron distance triathlon. She talked about how distractions and worries get people off their mental game. This is so true in the world of sport and for leaders involved in culture-related change efforts. Fear and hesitation can cripple improvement plans as leaders encounter inevitable obstacles. Tricia shared a story about her recovery from a devastating accident that occurred exactly 18 years before the day of the conference. She emphasized “the need to figure out ways to get around your problems,” and she obviously knows what she is talking about. I can’t imagine a top leader looking Tricia in the face and saying “it’s too hard” to deal with their culture-related problems and challenges.

    It’s a natural part of the process to encounter resistance and doubt your own ability or approach. Edgar Schein, culture expert and professor emeritus with MIT Sloan School of Management, once said, “You only truly begin to understand your culture when you try to change it.” Learn from the resistance and adjust your approach, if appropriate, in coordination with others. You don’t need to tackle the problems alone. Colleagues, outside experts and other trusted advisors can help you think through how to re-group and deal with the inevitable resistance. The process to “figure out ways to get around problems” can be scary and frustrating, but your courage and persistence will pay off.

A final insight: It’s important to understand how culture is created and how it evolves as a foundation for defining effective change efforts.

One of the highlights of the day was a new interactive learning experience called The Culture Journey. Attendees participated in this two-hour experience around tables of 6-8 people. Human Synergistics and Root Inc. developed The Culture Journey to help people understand what culture is, how culture is created and how it evolves as a foundation for defining effective change efforts. It was exciting to see how participants could relate to people depicted on the visual Root Learning Map® and the scenario cards.4

Learning Map group exercise

The session ended with a summary of three critical points regarding culture-related change efforts:

  1. Help leaders understand what culture really is and how it evolves
  2. Assess the culture and climate with qualitative and quantitative methods
  3. Engage teams and develop leaders to drive shared learning and results

Culture Journey

These sound so simple, but they are overlooked in most change efforts. It’s incredibly rare for me to run across an organization that can confidently state they consistently cover these three points as a key part of supporting their mission, strategy and performance priorities. This will change as more sophisticated and comprehensive approaches replace over-simplified culture and performance development efforts that fall short of delivering the targeted results for individuals, teams and organizations.

It was great to see this audience of culture enthusiasts armed with important insights that will help them make a meaningful difference at their organizations. We look forward to continuing the culture conversation and hope to see you at a future Ultimate Culture event!

 

Editor’s Note: If you are interested in learning more about the Culture Journey Learning Experience, Ultimate Culture Conference, Organizational Culture Inventory, Leadership/Impact and the Ultimate Culture and Performance Quick-Start program, please contact us.

Notes:
1 The terminology is from Robert A. Cooke, Ph.D. and J. Clayton Lafferty, Ph.D., Organizational Culture Inventory® and Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®, Human Synergistics International, Plymouth, MI. Copyright © 1987-2007. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

2 Cooke, R. A. & Lafferty, J. C. (1987). Organizational Culture Inventory®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

3 Cooke, R. A. (1996). Leadership/Impact® (L/I). Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

4 Root Learning Map®. Sylvania, OH. Root, Inc.

A Historic Shift in Expecting Leaders to Understand and Evolve Culture

We are experiencing a historic shift in how people view the importance of culture and culture change. As a result, most CEOs and other top leaders will be expected to understand and deal with culture challenges proactively, or they will be considered both financially and morally negligent. Yes, financially and morally negligent. We are seeing top leaders held accountable for their own behavior and for unacceptable behavior deep in their organizations at a level we have never witnessed before. This is driven by a much greater culture shift in society—and it is long overdue.

Many leaders think they are taking steps to understand and evolve their culture, but how can you tell? I will cover our 12-Question Culture Challenge leaders can use to evaluate their current approach, but first, we need to understand what’s led to this watershed shift in thinking about culture.

The shift is accelerating due to the outrage surrounding three extremely serious culture crises receiving widespread attention in the popular press:

  1. Uber sexual harassment crises1
  2. Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment crises2
  3. USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University crises surrounding the Larry Nassar scandal3

These three examples of repulsive leader behavior cross sport, film, higher education, technology, for-profit, non-profit, and many other segments. No organization is protected from the painful consequences of failing to understand the current state of its organizational culture and the impact it is having on its results and stakeholders (employees, customers, community, etc.).

January 2019 Update – The status of the three examples above has clearly changed over the last year. The original explanation of each example is expanded with a “January 2019 Update” so we can understand how these crises have continued to impact various stakeholder groups.

There are three major groups that organizations typically fall into when it comes to the current state of their culture-related understanding and intentional action: 1) The Positive Action Group, 2) The Culture Crisis Group, and 3) The Little or No Action Group (the vast middle).

The Current State of Culture-Related Action: The Positive Action Group

We’ve witnessed incredible growth in awareness that culture is important. Culture drives critical outcomes like financial performance, growth, retention, innovation, and customer experience.4 Many organizations are managing strategies related to employee experience, engagement, aligning systems and structures to support their values, leadership development, people analytics, diversity and inclusion, recognition, and other areas connected to culture. I will call this group of organizations “The Positive Action Group.”

I hesitate to say that there is a “problem” with any of these organizations because they all believe culture is important and are taking steps designed to make a positive impact. Unfortunately, however, many were informed by team members, consultants, and “experts” who do not have a thorough understanding of organizational culture and, in some cases, have over-simplified the assessment of the current state, so solutions or improvements may have little or no impact on culture.

The Culture Measurement Illusion: It is rare for organizations to understand, measure, and define a common language for the underlying culture in terms of beliefs, assumptions, and behavioral norms (the “unwritten” rules driving the behavior they see on the surface). Many think they are doing this work with a survey focusing on engagement, satisfaction, great workplace, etc. using so-called “culture assessments,” but these are nearly all, by definition, work climate assessments.

Often, these organizations and their leaders also lack understanding about how cultures evolve. They emphasize supporting their values and targeted behaviors instead of fully understanding their current culture and why any undesirable aspects are so deeply entrenched. Improvement plans help, but some are ineffective because they are based on a superficial understanding of the culture.

The good news is that the members of this group are taking action. Most will eventually take on meaningful and valid culture assessment and change efforts because they will be necessary to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. They quickly realize many improvement efforts can be accelerated when armed with a thorough understanding and measurement of their culture and climate.

The Current State of Culture-Related Action: The Culture Crisis Group

The flip side of this positive story across many organizations is the growing group of organizations rocked by a culture crisis. The three high-profile cases I previously mentioned are just the latest in a long list of prominent scandals and crises documented by others: GM ignition switch failures5, banks and the financial crises6, Volkswagen emissions scandal7, Toshiba accounting scandal8, NFL domestic abuse9 and bullying scandals10, Veterans Affairs wait-time crises11, US Secret Service security breaches12, and many more.

This group is “The Culture Crisis Group,” and it took a widely publicized and damaging situation for the organizations involved to give culture the attention it deserves. Here’s the typical flow:

  1. A crisis is publicized in the popular press.
  2. Leadership implements some initial improvement actions, but they are often widely criticized.
  3. An independent investigation is launched, normally by a law firm, without the assistance of any culture experts.
  4. A detailed report is published highlighting many flaws in systems, structures, leadership, training, and other areas.
  5. A small group of employees, viewed as the worst offenders, are fired or resign.
  6. Leadership implements new controls and other improvements, but culture is not assessed with the depth necessary to know if they are having the desired impact on shifting the culture.
  7. The organization drops from the headlines. There are differing opinions about the effectiveness of improvement actions and the impact on the broader culture, even if most are confident the specific original problem will not reoccur.
  8. The organization is “wounded” for years or decades that follow as the crisis becomes an unshakable part of their history.

We will eventually see this process change as organizations realize most law firms do not have the knowledge and tools to assess and measure culture thoroughly. If you have a heart problem, you go to a cardiologist; if you have a culture problem, you go to a…lawyer? There are many far-reaching legal implications, and lawyers will always be involved; they just need to partner with culture experts as part of these independent investigations.

The most significant issue with the current process is not simply bypassing a thorough assessment and measurement of cultural attributes during the original investigation; it also includes the absence of consistent culture measures during the improvement journey to confirm that the culture is changing. Most leaders or “experts” have no clear understanding of whether or not defensive behavioral norms related to, for example, a fear of speaking up, just “going along” with things, and not “rocking the boat” are truly dissipating.13

The Current State of Culture-Related Action: The Little or No Action Group (The Vast Middle)

The Little or No Action Group is the vast middle between the Positive Action Group and the Culture Crisis Group. Most organizations fall here. They typically have a litany of programs, projects, initiatives, and assessments that may or may not have a connection to culture. Some are met with sarcasm or groans from employees about “another” improvement initiative while the culture elephant in the room remains ignored. One top leader I know referred to it as “Groundhog Day,” where the same issues with behavior surface over and over again.

Leaders may or may not be aware that culture is important, but it is not one of their top priorities to understand, measure, and positively evolve in support of their mission, purpose, and strategy. They avoid taking a deeper look at culture due to excuses about time or money, but it is normally their lack of knowledge about culture or fears about what they will find that inhibits a deeper analysis. I call this the “culture conundrum”: leaders know they need to understand their culture, but they fear they will not know how to deal with issues that surface from a meaningful culture assessment. These leaders crave certainty, and it takes courage to deal with the messy side of understanding culture and culture change.

It is often pointless to try to “sell” the subject of culture to them. They are all at risk of having a major wake-up call and falling into The Culture Crisis Group. There’s a Mike Tyson quote that applies to this culture wake-up call: “Everyone has a strategy until they get punched in the face.” It can help to illuminate the gap between what leaders say they want to see in their organization (from a behavior or culture standpoint)14 and what exists, but they must be motivated to change both their organization and themselves.15

Understanding the Shift in How the World Views Culture

I am going to use the three recent culture crises I highlighted as case studies to help understand what’s driving the shift in thinking about culture.

Uber Culture Crisis

The first of our three culture crises did not start with the acclaimed blog post by Susan Fowler or the independent investigation that resulted in 47 recommendations found in the Holder Report.16, 17 Instead, concerns about Uber’s alleged aggressive and unrestrained culture existed for years, but the market value of Uber continued to grow despite each new shocking report.18 This changed with the most recent crisis around sexual harassment and other unacceptable behavior. Uber was valued at over $60 billion before the crisis, but its most recent financing from Softbank put the value of the company at $48 billion.19, 20 This massive drop in value still falls short of that attributable to the Volkswagen crisis, which will cost at least $31 billion.21 These are incredible losses and explain in part why, moving forward, ignoring culture will be considered financially negligent. We can only hope the broader culture in private equity firms and the financial community will shift and constructively impact aggressive cultures like the one at Uber. That may never happen, but they all care about money and will have to deal with the financial fallout.

The 47 recommendations in the Holder Report covered various systems, structures, roles, and other changes. There wasn’t a single recommendation—not one–related to understanding or measuring any aspect of the culture. The new CEO recently released “Uber’s New Cultural Norms,” but the title alone reveals how little Uber understands culture.22 They apparently made an intentional choice to call them norms and not values. They can call them what they like, but the reality is that they are espoused values. They are the “ideal,” or what they are targeting, and the difference between the target and the current reality (i.e., norms) must be understood. It is possible to measure critical behavioral norms and compare them to your values or ideal culture.23 This does not, however, appear to be part of Uber’s plan. Many organizations emphasize “culture alignment” and aligning everything to their values, but they lack an understanding of specifically where and how they are not living up to those values.

January 2019 Update It appears like Uber’s efforts to clean up its sexist culture have helped, but Vanity Fair reports “a reckless competitive streak still defines the company’s DNA.”44 Uber more recently faced another widely publicized crisis when an Uber self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian. The subsequent investigation revealed car calibration concerns, the emergency brakes were disabled, the safety driver monitoring the car was watching a show on her phone, and, most importantly for our culture discussion, Uber executives reportedly ignored employee feedback about the self-driving car technology being too unreliable for large-scale testing.45 The most damaging outcome for all of us that advocate for constructive cultures is the rapid recovery in Uber’s reported market value as it prepares for an IPO. The reported value of up to $120 billion is double the estimate prior to the Susan Fowler sexual harassment incident and it eclipses the total value of General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler combined (the “big three” automakers in the US).46, 47 Uber’s CEO has openly shared that the culture still needs improvement.48 He also shared the vision of Uber becoming the “Amazon of transportation” as they apply their platform to many on-demand services like food delivery, bikes and scooters. Time will tell if the Uber culture crisis will be viewed as one leading to self-inflicted wounds in a hypergrowth case study or, instead, as a notable example of how an organization can recover from negative patterns of behavior with help of new leadership.

Harvey Weinstein Scandal

The Harvey Weinstein scandal is important for a different reason than the Uber crisis.24 It is another case of harassment, a change in top leadership, and value destroyed, but the connection to the #MeToo movement will have the most significant impact on culture.25

The fear of speaking up is a cancer that plagues nearly all organizations. -Tim Kuppler

The fear of speaking up is a cancer that plagues nearly all organizations. This fear and related insecurities translate into implicit expectations for passive and defensive behaviors as measured by the Organizational Culture Inventory®. In most organizations, such norms limit innovation, customer satisfaction, learning, and financial results. In some organizations, like what is alleged to have occurred at the Harvey Weinstein Company, these fears and norms also keep repugnant behavior underground, even if “everyone” knows it is going on. The cultures of a number of organizations in various industries have evolved over many years to reinforce this “fear of speaking up” via a variety of mechanisms (think systems, structures, leadership approaches, peer pressure, etc.); thus, it may be difficult for their members to assert themselves, even when ethical lines are crossed. In reaction to this, we are just beginning to see the impact of #MeToo and other movements that unite people and encourage them to speak up.

A comment from a former Weinstein board member during a CNBC interview seems to indicate a lack of understanding of board member responsibility and accountability related to culture.26 Marc Lasry said, “Well, first of all, if everybody knew, why didn’t anyone tell me? Nobody called, nobody sent emails, nobody said, ‘Hey, by the way, you should know that.’ So it’s really nice that everybody says that, but at the end of the day, a lot of board members just didn’t know.”

The 2017 report from the National Association of Corporate Directors entitled Culture as a Corporate Asset includes the following quote: “If directors think their jobs are done by virtue of meeting regularly with the CEO and Senior Management, they’re seriously mistaken.27 Without firsthand visibility into how the culture is lived around the organization, the board’s job is incomplete.”

It is now becoming a broadly accepted standard that top leaders, including board members, must make it their job to know. Responsibility lies with the powerful, not the powerless.

January 2019 Update – As Uber continued to grow at a dizzying pace, The Harvey Weinstein Company ceased to exist.49 The company filed bankruptcy and was sold to Lantern Capital. It will operate under the name of Lantern Entertainment and the proceeds of the sale will go to lawyers, bankruptcy professionals, creditors and the victims of misconduct. As reported by NPR,  Harvey Weinstein was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting three women, and many others came forward to claim misconduct.50 Mr. Weinstein denied all charges and said the encounters were consensual. Defense attorneys continue to raise concerns about misconduct from investigators, prosecutors and alleged victims in an effort to have the entire case thrown out. This scandal may have brought down The Harvey Weinstein Company, but it’s still unclear how the criminal case will end.

USA Gymnastics / Michigan State Scandal

This most recent culture crisis dominating the popular press is exposing deeply rooted issues across sports and higher education.28 One victim of abuse was ultimately joined by 155 other victims and their advocates to share impact statements during the Larry Nassar trial. The trial led to widespread resignations, including the entire board of USA Gymnastics (USAG) along with the Athletic Director and President of Michigan State University.

This case shares many characteristics of the other two crises with vile behavior, leadership changes, independent investigations, and a movement encompassing students and many other groups. The distinguishing factor with this crisis is how it will impact organizations that may view themselves as oversight bodies (NCAA, US Olympic Committee, and others). These organizations are demanding change, but recent events suggest that they should be looking in the mirror when it comes to identifying who allowed this cancer to spread.

For example, the US Olympic Committee recently sent USAG a letter in which they demanded an entirely new board because committee leaders had “a clear sense that USAG culture needs fundamental rebuilding.”29 It is shocking to see this recent judgment because there was another sexual misconduct independent investigation launched by USAG in late 2016. The associated Daniel’s report, issued in June of 2017, highlighted the need for “a complete culture change.”30 And the issue goes far beyond elite gymnastics. The Washington Post recently reported that “More than 290 coaches and officials associated with the United States’ Olympic sports organizations have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct since 1982.”31 The figure spans 15 sports and “amounts to an average of eight adults connected to an Olympic organization accused of sexual misconduct every year — or about one every six weeks — for more than 36 years.” It is obvious that the US Olympic Committee should be evaluating their own culture and how they allowed this indefensible behavior in elite gymnastics and beyond.32

The alleged “culture of silence” at Michigan State is also being questioned by the NCAA as they launch an independent investigation.33, 34 They should not be surprised by this after major investigations at Penn State, Baylor, Ohio State, Rutgers, and many others.35, 36, 37, 38 The NCAA should be examining their own culture and expanding compliance-focused toolkits and standards to include the expectation for culture assessment in athletic departments.39

It is obviously a broader cultural issue that spans the entire governance structure of higher education. Expectations regarding culture assessment should exist across all accredited universities. We could see the US government eventually step in with new regulations if governing bodies in higher education don’t act.

I live in Michigan and can easily compare coverage of the General Motors ignition switch crisis with the current Michigan State crisis. The outrage from Michigan State students, athletes, parents, and alumni is amazing. It is dominating our news and sparking action far beyond the General Motors crisis. Do not underestimate the power of groups assembling to demand change. It will eventually change how our entire educational system deals with the subjects of culture, responsibility, and accountability.4 When we see this shift in education, it will spill over to all organizations as the power of culture is ingrained in how we educate future leaders.

January 2019 Update – If the Uber and Weinstein updates left you wondering about the far-reaching consequences of a dysfunctional culture, the USAG and Michigan State scandal teaches us to never underestimate the impact. More than 350 women have come forward and accused Larry Nassar of sexual abuse, including eight gold medalists. Larry Nassar pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges and state charges of sexual abuse. Steve Penny, the former CEO of USAG, was arrested and indicted on a charge of tampering with evidence.51 USA Gymnastics lost all major sponsors, filed for bankruptcy, and had two new CEOs step down after public pressure. An independent investigation was launched to understand what the US Olympic Committee and USAG executives knew about the scandal, and an associated 233-page report was released in December. The executive summary, as reported by USA Today, referenced “broader failures at USAG and the USOC to adopt appropriate child-protective policies and procedures to ensure a culture of safety for young athletes.”52 The USOC Chief of Sports Performance was promptly fired (remember my earlier description about the typical independent investigation flow) and US Senators have requested the FBI investigate the possibility that the past USOC CEO, who resigned last February, lied to Congress in his testimony. The current USOC CEO started the unprecedented process to strip the USAG of its powers as a governing body with a recent letter.53

The fallout from this crisis reached far beyond the USAG and USOC.54 The former president of Michigan State and the university’s former head gymnastics coach were both charged with lying to investigators, and each faces up to a four-year prison term if convicted. Nassar’s former boss at the university was charged with four criminal charges related to the scandal and received additional allegations of sexual harassment. Michigan State reached a $500 million settlement with 332 survivors and continues to receive pressure to improve their response to the crisis.55 The Michigan legislature passed two new Nassar-related laws, and nearly 20 other related bills are under consideration.

At the other end of the spectrum from the seemingly never-ending damage, gymnastics athletes and others associated with the #MeToo movement are being celebrated for their courage and inspiring positive change.56 

Summarizing the Shift in Thinking About Culture

Hopefully, these scandals will help all involved to understand the combination of events contributing to a massive shift in thinking about culture:

  1. Boards and the financial community now see the staggering financial impact of ignoring culture across many high-profile examples.
  2. There is a social movement where individuals are encouraged to speak up and leaders are being held accountable for not knowing about bad behavior or allowing it to persist.
  3. The spotlight is finally being shined on industry and governance bodies. Their change efforts will impact large groups of organizations, or the government will step in.

Over the last 30 to 40 years, awareness of the importance of culture has grown and this progress has been driven by many progressive leaders with noble intentions.40 The shift to culture assessment and change efforts being “required,” or at least expected, is driven by social movements and crises where the power of culture is clear to all.

Take the 12-Question Culture Challenge

How will you or your CEO know if your approach to assessing and changing or evolving culture is sound? It is especially challenging with the tremendous growth in awareness about culture. It seems as though everyone is talking about culture these days—describing what culture is, what it isn’t, why it’s important, offering advice, top tips, and so on with little consistency even amongst “culture experts.” Confusion about culture is common and leaders often feel lost when it comes to understanding this critical topic.

Answer the following 12 questions to understand if your current approach is covering basic culture assessment and change best practices. (Share these with your CEO or manager if you do not know the answers.)

  1. Do you have strong internal culture expertise or, if not, are you obtaining adequate support in some form (education, coaching or consulting, assessment) from an external thought partner with extensive culture experience? You cannot replace decades of experience, but you can learn from it.
  2. Have you defined values and expected behaviors so it is clear what you stand for and expect from all team members?
  3. Do you currently assess your culture (e.g., values and norms) and climate (e.g., perceptions of systems, structures, job design, leadership skills and qualities) at defined periods?41 Most engagement, great workplace, satisfaction, and so-called “culture assessments” only measure the work climate. Confirm that you are measuring some dimensions of culture: beliefs, values, and behavioral norms.
  4. Does your culture assessment approach include a combination of thorough quantitative (survey) and qualitative (interviews, focus groups, or other approaches) methods? Leading culture authority Edgar Schein said, “It is vital that organizations understand deeply what culture is, what it does, and how to analyze it as they change and develop.42 To do this effectively requires both a qualitative and a quantitative approach to managing the culture change process.”
  5. Do you utilize a valid and reliable culture and climate survey? Other survey considerations include the presence of extensive third-party research, global application, and the use of a diverse research data set for comparison instead of client data.
  6. Does your culture assessment approach include the identification of beliefs and assumptions driving the patterns of behavior or norms you see (especially any negative or challenging behaviors or norms you identify)? Just a few examples from the Organizational Culture Inventory: Why do team members believe they are expected or implicitly required to not “rock the boat,” avoid confrontation, never challenge superiors, and/or accept the status quo?
  7. If not included in responses to question #6, does your culture assessment approach include the identification of organizational factors or forces that are reinforcing the beliefs or assumptions uncovered in question #6?43 Robert Cooke and Janet Szumal propose that there are often specific aspects of the work climate (systems, structures, leadership approaches) reinforcing basic beliefs like “I have to go along with this, even though I disagree,” “it’s not my job” or “they won’t do anything about what I say.”
  8. Does your culture-related improvement planning process include a clear connection to solving problems and improving outcomes (results) for individuals (e.g., satisfaction, motivation, stress) and the organization (e.g., growth, adaptability, quality, service)? Many organizations see only marginal results from generic “culture plans” lacking a clear connection to specific outcomes or results.
  9. Do you openly share the results of culture assessments internally and engage the broader organization in the process to adjust major strategies and improvement plans based on what you learn? This approach is far more strategic and impactful than common survey and action planning approaches.
  10. Do you share the status of improvement plans (referenced in question #8) and re-engage the broader organization to provide feedback on what’s working, what’s not, and related results/outcomes? This approach supports shared learning and a clear connection to results or outcomes.
  11. Do you connect the definition of any desired shift or change in the culture to the assessment and development efforts of individuals, including underlying mindsets, and teams (starting with the top leadership team)?
  12. Can you state with confidence that you are an active participant in your organization’s approach to understanding and, where needed, intentionally evolving its culture?

What to do next?

If you answered “YES” to all questions, you are well on your way to growing a strong culture assessment and development approach. It is likely having a positive impact on individuals, teams, your organization, and the local community or society in many ways that go beyond what you realize. Don’t stop your learning journey. Openly share what you have learned with others and reach out to culture experts to continue your learning journey.

It is possible to unlock the power of culture for good!

If you said “NO” to any of these questions, you should revisit your approach or the guidance you have been given (see question #1). There may be an opportunity to improve your management and change strategies as well as related outcomes or results. Don’t wait—the only “good” time to improve the understanding of your culture and how it is driving results is now. Substantial progress can be made in less than 90 days if you follow a proven approach.

You will not find anything more difficult, rewarding, and sustainable as a leader than evolving your culture with intent. It is possible to unlock the power of culture for good! Brené Brown had an excellent quote in her book, Braving the Wilderness:

If leaders really want people to show up, speak out, take chances and innovate, we have to create cultures where people feel safe—where their belonging is not threatened by speaking out and they are supported when they make decisions to brave the wilderness, stand-alone, and speak truth to bullshit. -Brené Brown

Organizations and industries still have the opportunity to determine how they should assess, measure, monitor, and manage their cultures. If they don’t do so, it will be a matter of time until their leaders are viewed as financially and morally negligent, and serious consequences are likely to continue and possibly increase in frequency and severity. As importantly, however, the standards, tools, procedures, and regulations for assessing and managing their cultures are going to be externally imposed and may be bureaucratic, ineffective, and wasteful—as well as difficult to change and improve in ways that actually solve the problems at hand.

Yes, it is possible to unlock the power of culture for good and we all have a role to play in making this happen. Each one of us should reflect on our responsibilities in that journey and whether we are constructively influencing culture in a way that aligns with our personal and shared values. This can be an invaluable first step in connecting personal transformation to culture transformation.

Editor’s Notes:

  • This blog post was updated January 14, 2019. See sections labeled, “January 2019 Updates” and corresponding references below for notes 44 through 52.
  • Organizations mentioned herein were contacted and have not yet responded to our requests for comments.
  • Download the 12-Question Culture Challenge and share it with your CEO or other top leaders.
  • Need some help with your culture journey? Consider the proven and effective Ultimate Culture and Performance: 90-Day Quick-Start Program.
  • Interested in learning more about culture, climate, and the most widely used and thoroughly researched cultural assessment in the world? Attend our popular Culture Accreditation Workshop.
  • Please share this post with others and comment on social media.

References:

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2 Twohey, M. (2017, Oct. 8). Harvey Weinstein Is Fired After Sexual Harassment Reports. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/08/business/harvey-weinstein-fired.html

3 Tracy, M. (2018, Jan. 26). Nassar Case Topples U.S.A. Gymnastics Board and MSU Athletic Director. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/26/sports/michigan-state-mark-hollis.html

4 Cooke, R. A. and Szumal, J. L. (2000). “Using the Organizational Culture Inventory to understand the operating cultures of organizations.” In Neal M. Ashkanasy, Celeste P.M. Wilderom, Mark F. Peterson (eds.), The Handbook of Organizational Culture and Climate, Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications, pp. 147-162.

5 Kuppler, T. (2014, Jun. 24). GM Culture Crisis Case Study – A Tragedy and Missed Opportunity. Retrieved from http://www.cultureuniversity.com/gm-culture-crisis-case-study-a-tragedy-missed-opportunity/

6 Glazer, E. and Rexrode, C. (2015, Feb. 1). As Regulators Focus on Culture, Wall Street Struggles to Define It. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/as-regulators-focus-on-culture-wall-street-struggles-to-define-it-1422838659

7 Reuters. (2017, May 23). Volkswagen’s CEO Says Changing the Automaker’s Corporate Culture Is ‘Not an Easy Undertaking’. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2017/05/23/volkswagen-matthias-mueller-corporate-culture/

8 Mochizuki, T. (2015, Jul. 21). Toshiba CEO Resigns After Accounting Scandal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/toshiba-ceo-felled-by-accounting-scandal-1437468537

9 McManus, J. (2015, Jan. 28). Domestic Violence And The NFL: What Impact Has The League Made? Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/espnw/news-commentary/article/12235694/impact-league-made

10 Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Wells, Jr. T. W., Karp, B., Birenboim, B. and Brown, D. W. (2014, Feb. 14). Report To The National Football League Concerning Issues Of Workplace Conduct At The Miami Dolphins. Retrieved from http://63bba9dfdf9675bf3f10-68be460ce43dd2a60dd64ca5eca4ae1d.r37.cf1.rackcdn.com/PaulWeissReport.pdf

11 Hicks, J. (2014, June 25). Coburn report slams VA as ‘broken system’. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/federal-eye/wp/2014/06/25/coburn-report-slams-va-as-broken-system/

12 Chaffetz, J. E. and Cummings, E. (2015, Dec. 9). United States Secret Service: An Agency In Crisis

13 Cooke, R. A. & Lafferty, J. C. (1987). Organizational Culture Inventory®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

14 Cooke, R. A. (1996). Leadership/Impact® (L/I). Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

15 Kuppler, T. (2017, Dec. 20). Don’t Sell, Create the Gap—with Leadership and Culture. Retrieved from http://constructiveculture.com/dont-sell-create-gap-leadership-culture/

16 Fowler, S. (2017, Feb. 19). Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber. Retrieved from https://www.susanjfowler.com/blog/2017/2/19/reflecting-on-one-very-strange-year-at-uber

17 Holder, E. (2017). Holder Report. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1s08BdVqCgrUVM4UHBpTGROLXM/view

18 Isaac, M. (2017, Feb. 22). Inside Uber’s Aggressive, Unrestrained Workplace Culture. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/22/technology/uber-workplace-culture.html

19 Isaac, M. and Picker, L. (2015, Dec. 3). Uber Valuation Put at $62.5 Billion After a New Investment Round. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/04/business/dealbook/uber-nears-investment-at-a-62-5-billion-valuation.html

20 Isaac, M. (2017, Dec. 28). Uber Sells Stake to SoftBank, Valuing Ride-Hailing Giant at $48 Billion. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/technology/uber-softbank-stake.html

21 Rauwald, C. (2018, Jan. 30). Volkswagen Suspends Top Lobbyist in Wake of Monkey Tests. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-30/volkswagen-suspends-top-lobbyist-in-wake-of-animal-test-probe

22 Khosrowshahi, D. (2017, Nov. 7). Uber’s new cultural norms. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ubers-new-cultural-norms-dara-khosrowshahi/

23 Cooke, R. A. & Lafferty, J. C. (1987). Organizational Culture Inventory®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics. Retrieved from https://www.humansynergistics.com/change-solutions/change-solutions-for-organizations/assessments-for-organizations/organization-culture-inventory

24 BBC News. (2018, Jan. 24). Harvey Weinstein timeline: How the scandal unfolded. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-41594672

25 Me Too movement. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 2, 2018 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me_Too_movement

26 CNBC News Releases. (2017, Dec. 7). CNBC Exclusive: CNBC Transcript: Avenue Capital Chairment & CEO Marc Lasry Speaks with CNBC’s Scott Wapner. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2017/12/07/cnbc-exclusive-cnbc-transcript-avenue-capital-chairman-ceo-marc-lasry-speaks-with-cnbcs-scott-wapner.html

27 The National Association of Corporate Directors. (2017). Culture as a Unifying Force. Retrieved from http://boardleadership.nacdonline.org/rs/815-YTL-682/images/NACD%20BRC%20Culture%20as%20Corporate%20Asset%2010.6.17.pdf

28 McCarthy, K. (2018, Jan. 26). With Larry Nassar’s sentencing, his accusers share their own powerful words. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/US/larry-nassars-sentencing-accusers-share-powerful-words/story?id=52608540

29 Blackmun, S. (2018, Jan. 18). USA Gymnastics NGB Status. Retrieved from https://usagym.org/PDFs/Home/usoc_012518.pdf

30 Daniels, D. J., J.D. (2017, June 26). Report to USA Gymnastics on Proposed Policy and Procedural Changes for the Protection of Young Athletes. Retrieved from https://usagym.org/PDFs/About%20USA%20Gymnastics/ddreport_062617.pdf

31 Hobson, W. and Rich, St. (2017, Nov. 17). Every six weeks for more than 36 years: When will sex abuse in Olympic sports end? Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/every-six-weeks-for-more-than-36-years-when-will-sex-abuse-in-olympic-sports-end/2017/11/17/286ae804-c88d-11e7-8321-481fd63f174d_story.html

32 Longman, J. (2018, Jan. 25). Will Larry Nassar Take Down The U.S. Olympic Committee? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/sports/olympics/larry-nassar-usoc.html

33 Jesse, D. (2018, Jan. 28). Culture of silence on sexual assaults extends past Michigan State University’s athletics. https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2018/01/28/michigan-state-university-silence-sexual-assaults/1071818001/

34 Solari, Chris. (2018, Jan. 23). NCAA sends letter of inquiry to Michigan State over Larry Nassar case. Retrieved from https://www.freep.com/story/sports/college/michigan-state/spartans/2018/01/23/ncaa-letter-inquiry-michigan-state-over-larry-nassar-case/1060431001/

35 Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan, LLP. (2012, Jul. 12). Report of the Special Investigative Counsel Regarding the Actions of The Pennsylvania State University Related to the Child Sexual Abuse Committed by Gerald A. Sandusky. Retrieved from https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/396512-report-final-071212.html

36 Baylor University Board Of Regents (n.d.). Findings Of Facts. Retrieved from https://www.baylor.edu/thefacts/doc.php/266596.pdf

37 The Ohio State University. (2014, Jul. 22). Investigation Report, Complaint against Jonathan Waters, Director of the OSU Marching Band. Retrieved from https://www.osu.edu/assets/pdf/Investigation-Report.pdf

38 Heyboer, K. (2014, Jan. 28). Rutgers releases investigator’s report on Jevon Tyree football bullying allegations. Retrieved from http://www.nj.com/education/2014/01/rutgers_releases_investigators_report_on_jevon_tyree_football_bullying_allegations.html

39 NCAA (n.d.). Compliance and Accountability. Retrieved from https://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/0809SA_Toolkit_Call_To_Action_20160929.pdf

40 CFO Magazine and COLE, the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics. (2015, Nov. 12). How Corporate Culture Affects the Bottom Line. Retrieved from https://www.fuqua.duke.edu/duke-fuqua-insights/corporate-culture

41 Cooke, R. and Kuppler, T. (2016, Dec. 20). Clarifying the Elusive Concepts of Culture and Climate. ConstructiveCulture.com blog. Retrieved from http://constructiveculture.com/clarifying-the-elusive-concepts-of-culture-and-climate/

42 Human Synergistics. (2016, Dec. 7). Culture expert Edgar Schein and Human Synergistics International announce collaboration. Retrieved from https://www.humansynergistics.com/resources/news-events/content/2016/12/07/culture-expert-edgar-schein-and-human-synergistics-international-announce-collaboration

43 Human Synergistics. (n.d.). Assessments for Organizations. Retrieved from https://www.humansynergistics.com/change-solutions/change-solutions-for-organizations/assessments-for-organizations

Updated References:

44 Kosoff, M. (Dec. 12, 2018). Has Uber’s Cutthroat Culture Actually Changed? Retrieved from https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/12/has-ubers-cutthroat-culture-actually-changed 

45 Efrati, A. (Dec. 10, 2018). How an Uber Whistleblower Tried to Stop Self-Driving Car Disaster. Retrieved from https://www.theinformation.com/articles/how-an-uber-whistleblower-tried-to-stop-self-driving-car-disaster 

46 Owusu, T. (Oct. 16, 2018). Uber Is Now Valued at as Much as $120 Billion – Report. Retrieved from https://www.thestreet.com/technology/uber-is-now-valued-at-as-much-as-120-billion-says-report-14746033 

47 Kenwell, B. (Oct. 16, 2018). Is Uber Really Worth More Than GM, Ford and Fiat Combined? Retrieved from https://www.thestreet.com/markets/ipos/is-uber-worth-more-than-gm-ford-and-fiat-14746632 

48 Bond, S. (Oct. 22, 2018). Uber chief says workplace culture needs further improvement. Retrieved from https://www.ft.com/content/a247a728-d644-11e8-a854-33d6f82e62f8 

49 Desta, Y. (July 16, 2018). After Months-Long Death Rattles, the Weinstein Company Is Officially Kaput. https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/07/the-weinstein-company-lantern-entertainment 

50 Rose, J. and Friedman, R. (Dec. 17, 2018). Weinstein Seeks Dismissal Of Sexual Assault Case In Possible #MeToo Setback. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2018/12/17/676803400/weinstein-seeks-dismissal-of-sexual-assault-case-in-possible-metoo-setback 

51 Hobson, (Oct. 18, 2018). Ex-USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny indicted on tampering charges. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/ex-usa-gymnastics-president-steve-penny-indicted-on-tampering-charges/2018/10/18/3cde8d54-d287-11e8-8c22-fa2ef74bd6d6_story.html 

52 Brennan, C. (Dec. 10, 2018). New report details how USOC, USAG failed to protect athletes in Larry Nassar sex abuse case. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2018/12/10/usoc-larry-nassar-sex-abuse-case-hammered-report/2262885002/

Post #200 on CultureU – 7 Essential Insights Normally Missed in Culture Change Efforts

This milestone post is a salute to passionate and experienced culture and performance change agents. You understand the power of culture in organizations and the challenge, frustration, restlessness, and exhilaration inevitably linked to intentional culture-related action. We’re living in the absolute best time in history to be involved in meaningful culture change. Culture is finally a topic of discussion in most organizations, and we need to make the most of it.

Washington MonumentI adjusted my plan for this post during a recent trip to Washington, DC. I was going to write a general “how-to” post, but that changed during an early-morning run by the Washington Monument. I saw the flags at half-staff due to the recent Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas and started thinking about the incredibly challenging culture-related issues in organizations and society as a whole. I thought: “It’s going to take every bit of experience and knowledge to tackle these issues, and a general ‘how-to guide’ barely touches the surface of what we need.” I shifted my focus to zero in on details often missed in culture-related change efforts, even by experienced change agents.

Unless you are some sort of crazy unicorn, we all can benefit from learning from others, especially with something as challenging as shifting or evolving culture. We spend so much time trying to understand the stories and examples from great cultures or listening to the latest inspiring keynote, but we rarely dive into the messy culture realities and specific approaches to change. These seven insights will, hopefully, add to your experience in some new and impactful ways.

1. Unite the organization to support the purpose and top priorities

I recently had a conversation with a manager, and she said leaders at her organization think of culture as being “soft.” This absolutely broke my heart, but it’s the reality in many organizations.  It doesn’t matter if the current culture is crippling the organization and costing billions or keeping the organization from living up to its fullest potential.

My culture reality is different. I didn’t gain a passion for the subject of culture from being an educator or consultant. I started learning about culture around the same time I was promoted to fill a senior leadership role with full P&L responsibility. I was excited about the opportunity, but also plagued by a feeling of panic inside as I listened to the critical, self-doubting voice in my head. I was fortunate that the very experienced VP of Operations I partnered with in multiple roles had the vision of “every team member feeling like they were part of a group running their own business.” It didn’t matter if it was a department, plant, warehouse, or cross-functional group. This resonated with me. The knowledge of the business, ownership, teamwork, and expectations for proactive action would be so strong it would propel our organization forward.

We worked together with the rest of our leadership team to define an “involvement culture” that was all about uniting our organization in support of our vision and most critical performance priorities. There was an incredible sense of urgency each year as we connected our “involvement culture” habits and systems to one or more specific business priorities like quality, safety, growth, customer experience, and innovation.

This concept of “uniting the organization” behind a critical improvement priority has resonated repeatedly as I engage with other leaders. The frustrations, inconsistencies, and challenges top leaders experience when managing their most critical performance improvement priorities often connect back to culture in some form.

I love seeing the light go on when a top leader begins to understand the idea of culture-related understanding and change being the key to uniting his or her organization to support the top improvement or performance priorities. This builds naturally out of a discussion regarding the most critical priorities they are managing and the frustrations or challenges they have “bringing their team together” to deliver the results they are targeting. Remember to think about what mission priority you are attaching a culture engine to and avoid generic culture plans with no clear connection to outcomes or results. Culture is the fuel to maximize the potential of an organization, and it’s definitely not “soft.”

2. Connect culture transformation to the personal drive of the top leader

I have never encountered a culture that couldn’t be changed, but I have met plenty of leaders who are culturally blind to the problems they need to solve. I always love interviewing the senior management of an organization, especially the top leader. One discussion can provide tremendous insight into what drives them and whether that deep personal drive can be connected to culture-related change. I used to think you could build this relationship over the course of an improvement effort. I was wrong—that’s too late. The entire tone of the work changes after a gut-level connection and understanding is achieved. Resist the temptation to be an expert, especially in initial interactions. Everything you say and do can influence the change effort. There needs to be less judging, less talking, and more questions.

I learned to use the following question at the end of interviews to build trust and make a stronger connection with the personal drive of the top leader: “We have discussed the reasons and targeted outcomes for this work, but that’s been focused more on the overall organization. Why is it important to you personally that we successfully evolve the culture in meaningful and impactful ways?” Some respond with more “business reasons,” but most open up and tell a story that connects the work to something far more personal in their background.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Rev’d Canon Michael Hunn

The most interesting response I received came from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church. You may know that name. He delivered the message at the recent royal wedding. We had a great discussion that ended with the “personal” question. He sat back and thought for a good 10 to 15 seconds. My mind was racing as he said, “I grew up in a family where there was an expectation that what you did with your work was going to change the world.” He also shared, “We’ll know it’s working and having the impact we need when random people know our work and hear the version that is not judgmental or hypocritical.”

This was what we needed. We talked about how the “expectation” word is powerful when it comes to culture and the cultural norms, or “unwritten rules,” that people are bombarded within organizations. That expectation he felt growing up was a splendid example of a constructive and encouraging expectation reinforced in countless ways. I could have preached to him about culture for hours, but it would have been meaningless without a more personal understanding. I would have missed this deeper connection if I didn’t ask that final question.

Larry Senn, founder and Chairman of Senn Delaney, defined a great analogy for the process to help leaders understand the impact of culture: “You need to manufacture an Aha.” I love this concept because no “aha” means no culture change.

3. “Stop using the word ‘culture’ so much”

Ed Schein and Tim KupplerI was discussing a couple of very challenging improvement efforts with Edgar Schein. I am freakishly driven when it comes to culture, but not free from fear, so I was a little intimidated sharing plans with a top culture pioneer. He was very encouraging, and then he stopped me: “Tim, you’re not going to like this, but you have to stop using the word ‘culture’ so much. People don’t know what you are talking about.” He emphasized the need to understand if I was talking about a value, behavior, norm, or something else. I think many of us get sucked into this trap of using the “generic culture word,” and it undermines our work.

It’s far clearer for everyone involved to avoid referencing culture and culture change by using language like:

  • Solving problems or accomplishing goals
  • Overcoming significant frustrations with collaboration or teamwork
  • Understanding patterns of behavior, norms, or “unwritten rules” negatively impacting results and why they are so deeply entrenched
  • Resolving inconsistencies with behaviors that are undermining results
  • Reducing fear and hesitation that are holding the organization back
  • Involving, empowering, and encouraging proactive action
  • Driving shared learning and results as a team

These areas can be probed without ever mentioning the word “culture.” Culture can then be introduced in the context of their stories, examples, and language instead of your language.

4. Understand the current climate and underlying culture

Robert Cooke, CEO of Human Synergistics and author of the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®), said: “One of the problems we have with culture is that everything has become culture.”  Much of what people are referring to when they think they are talking about culture is actually organizational climate – the shared perceptions and attitudes of members of the organization.

I was facilitating some focus groups recently with a major university partner and corporate client. Nearly every individual in the focus groups felt compelled to jump in and start talking about examples of screwed-up systems, structures, or leadership approaches that were all aspects of the work climate. It was messy work pulling them back to help them understand patterns of behavior and why they were so deeply entrenched. We’re not used to talking about the invisible realm of culture: values, beliefs, assumptions, and norms. This inability to go deeper is crippling organizations as we deal with surface changes to the work climate that may have little or no impact on the underlying culture. We layer on more systems changes, training, or some “new program” defined with little or no understanding of the “real” culture.

Most people in organizations are not trying to frustrate each other and intentionally undermine success through behavior that is less than ideal. There are logical reasons why behavior interpreted as being frustrating, rude, or insensitive persists. We need to understand “patterns” of inconsistent or undesirable behavior and the shared beliefs or assumptions driving them. What is driving that “fear of speaking up” or the “just go along with things” mindset? Why aren’t leaders involving team members in major decisions that impact them?

Most “culture experts” focus on “culture alignment” or behavior change but, as Edgar Schein warned, “don’t be seduced into thinking that behavior change is culture change.” If cultural attributes (e.g., norms, values, beliefs, etc.) aren’t evolving, the success of a change effort may be short-lived. The frame to understand culture must go beyond the work climate and observable behavior. It’s not sufficient, it distorts things and a deeper understanding is possible with additional effort.

5. Follow a qualitative-quantitative-qualitative assessment sequence to understand the current state of the culture and climate

I am an enthusiastic fan of “real” culture surveys (the rare ones that measure values and norms), but I think it’s short-sighted to jump to a survey as an initial step in a change effort. It’s incredibly important to start by understanding why there is an interest in culture. What problem are you trying to solve? What goal are you trying to achieve? It helps to understand the current perceptions about culture and climate and how they are both helping and hindering progress with specific improvement goals or priorities. It often helps if the initial qualitative effort is not biased by already having feedback from a survey. It’s easier to stay in an inquiry mode if you don’t already have some of the “answers” from a survey. The initial qualitative step may also help with identifying custom items to add to a standardized culture and climate assessment. The survey can then be used to develop a baseline language and measurement regarding some aspects of the current culture and climate.

The survey, or quantitative, step will reveal characteristics of the work climate and culture that were not mentioned in the initial qualitative step. This should not be a surprise, because culture is like the water we swim in or the air we breathe. Most “experts” jump to action planning or defining improvement efforts right after combining qualitative and quantitative methods. This is a missed opportunity because it can be incredibly beneficial to return to a second round of qualitative assessment to understand 1) why characteristics from the quantitative assessment were not previously mentioned, and 2) how these characteristics are influencing the aspects of the culture and climate that were identified.

I was facilitating some focus groups with a consulting partner at a manufacturing client who was interested in reliability improvement. One focus group was held with middle managers, and they probed “say-do gaps” between the behavior they encourage or target to support reliability improvement and the reality of the behavior they tend to see on the front lines (and from themselves). They identified numerous areas of the work climate that were “reinforcing” current undesirable behavior: communication gaps, training needs, lack of clear goals and measures, etc.

The discussion was losing energy, so we shared some results from their culture and climate survey. We reviewed some challenges related to “listening” and “helping others grow and develop.” It was amazing how these facts re-energized the discussion. The group discussed a coaching initiative that wasn’t going well due to their continual time in meetings and extremely limited time available to coach the front lines. This initiative wasn’t even mentioned during the initial qualitative engagement of the group. They openly discussed how, even when there is time to listen, people are often just listening to support their own agendas. They were probing struggles and culture “elephants in the room” normally covered in sound bites and quick judgments during the normal rat race at work. This time, they were sticking with the discussion and gaining a shared understanding of the current state. It would have been easy to run ahead and fix communications systems, training, or other surface problems originally identified during the first qualitative step, but that wouldn’t have addressed the root cause they were surfacing through a deeper analysis.

The root cause related to an emphasis on just getting production out the door that had persisted for decades, and work to support the reliability priority would not address that issue and the underlying beliefs. They decided to shift their focus to “predictability” improvement: satisfying production demands at the right time while meeting their quality and safety standards. This focus would require them to shift some misguided beliefs, associated aggressive norms, AND ineffective surface systems, structures and leadership approaches that were reinforcing the current state. The discussions and planning process were difficult but worth it based on the plant manager’s feedback: “This work gave us surgical clarity regarding our problems and what needs to be done to resolve them. It will allow us to turbocharge our plans and results.”

I can’t recall seeing this qualitative-quantitative-qualitative flow recommended in books, let alone the popular press or consulting firm culture whitepapers. I believe it’s the ideal flow for dealing with complex culture-related problems and improvement efforts, but it’s rarely applied. When it is applied, it’s often lacking a valid and reliable survey that covers both culture and climate. It’s not a simple flow to facilitate, but it always leads to more targeted and effective problem-solving. It’s messy, hard, and frustrating, but also incredibly rewarding as groups work through issues with a level of shared understanding and clarity rarely achieved in our action-oriented culture.

6. Engage and re-engage team members with discipline to drive shared learning and results

Edgar Schein and Robert CookeI set up a discussion between Edgar Schein and Robert Cooke. We were recording the discussion on video, but the cameras hadn’t started rolling yet. Ed said, “Culture is built through shared learning and mutual experience.” I thought: “That’s it! That’s what I have been working on for 15 years.” I never articulated it with such understandable language, but that’s what we were facilitating through numerous group techniques to “unite” our team in support of our most critical performance priorities.

We used a specific design to engage the workforce in improvement efforts that naturally facilitated shared learning and mutual experience. I had been part of many large company meetings before I was promoted to my first VP role. It often seemed like Groundhog Day as some of the same issues came up repeatedly. We wanted to try a different approach and designed a structure for large group “involvement meetings.” I used the same general structure in more than 250 meetings across many organizations.

Each involvement meeting follows a standard structure. Top leadership starts by sharing a general “state of the business/organization.” Groups complete brainstorming and prioritization activities on key areas of improvement for the next 6 to12 months. Some of these areas are identified or modified based on the results of the culture and climate assessment. Top ideas are captured in documented goals for implementation and tracking. Leadership commits to monitor progress, remove barriers, and recognize positive progress as a team during implementation. A second involvement meeting is held 4 to12 months later. A major part of the agenda is to review progress from the last meeting, identify what’s worked, and identify what didn’t live up to expectations as a foundation for further feedback and prioritization activities. This disciplined approach unified the team, facilitated shared learning, and helped us improve results. It also allowed us to collectively prioritize some improvements in clear phases from one involvement meeting to the next. Key learnings and best practices were always captured as a basis for application and further improvement in the subsequent phase.

There are countless individuals that just need a vehicle to say what their heart and head want them to say, but they haven’t. They feel powerless to change things. Individuals often feel more comfortable sharing problems and improvement ideas within the safety of a group. A critical step in meaningful culture change is when an unshakable shared belief somehow becomes shakable. The “involvement meeting” structure and other approaches help shake crippling beliefs like, “they don’t listen to us” or “we can’t really impact major decisions.”

The fear of speaking up is a cancer that plagues nearly all organizations. -Tim Kuppler

7. Plan on the “resistance” and learning from it together

We’ve all been there. The resistance can take many forms including criticisms, revisiting decisions, lack of engagement, venting frustrations, lack of follow-up, personal attacks, and perfectionism, where no idea or action is good enough. We live in a culture where encountering resistance is viewed as a problem instead of being a perfectly normal part of any major change. The good news is that we are living in a culture that is establishing new rules for what’s expected in the workplace.

Understanding the resistance and what’s driving it is often the key to understanding culture and the unique struggles individuals and groups encounter. Is it isolated or is it a pattern? Under what circumstances does it surface? Is it a symptom of a deeper issue? What’s reinforcing or encouraging the resistance?

Here are some thoughts on dealing with the resistance:

  • Maintain a constructive and positive tone: Ignore that loud and judgmental voice inside your head as you work to learn from the resistance. I listened to a recent culture podcast with Carly Fiorina where she said, “To do anything is to be criticized.” She continued: “We need courage to deal with criticism.” You are doing something that is truly brave when you constructively and positively deal with the inevitable challenges that will surface in any meaningful change effort. Model the constructive behavior you want to see in others and never go negative by getting wrapped up in the resistance yourself.
  • Re-group and re-evaluate plans through the lens of culture: Don’t try and deal with the resistance alone as an expert. Edgar Schein also said: “You only truly begin to understand a culture when you try to change it.” The easy thing would be to conclude “that didn’t work” and go back to a less inclusive approach. Re-group and re-engage individuals or groups to deal with what’s surfacing and tackle it as a team. Use it as another opportunity to drive shared learning and adjust plans where appropriate.
  • Get used to the culture grind and don’t stop or dramatically reduce change efforts: Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” It’s easy to feel overworked and overwhelmed. We live in a culture where many stop when they experience strong resistance. Expect the resistance. There will be the inevitable anxious or difficult conversations. Plan for it and be disciplined and consistent with your response when it emerges. Empathize with struggles or challenges and clearly identify where plans are being adjusted based on feedback. Don’t dramatically reduce the scope of the work or you will undermine the credibility of the change effort and results.

I’ll end this point with an excellent quote from soccer star Pele:

Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and, most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.
-Pele

Summary and top three reasons for failed culture transformation

I believe all seven of the insights in this post are incredibly useful in every single significant culture-related change effort, but they do not guarantee success. What differentiates success from failure? I watch for three main qualities, and the absence of one can substantially delay success or lead to complete failure:

  1. Leadership understands how they are reinforcing the current culture and start by shifting their own behavior. Larry Senn once said: “Culture transformation starts with personal transformation.”
  2. Leadership is willing to apply an inclusive approach to drive shared learning and results as a team. Many leaders really struggle with the risk and uncertainty of not knowing everything and empowering others to make important decisions.
  3. Leadership follows a disciplined approach to shift the operating model (systems, structures, habits, etc.) in targeted areas with clarity and speed. It’s a major shift from an organization that struggles with inclusive and united change efforts to one that naturally expects and reinforces them in countless ways.

The common theme with these three qualities is, of course, leadership. Every leader and every change agent is on a learning journey when it comes to culture. The more I understand culture, the more I realize what I still don’t understand. We need a community of culture believers—a support structure to encourage, share ideas, and collaborate to surface approaches and make a meaningful impact.

Hopefully, you have enjoyed the support structure at Culture University. Thank you to all the authors (75+ and counting) and readers sharing content and personal insights to help others on their culture learning journey.

Additional Resources

  • Attend a Human Synergistics Culture Accreditation Workshop. Collaborate with us after attending our sessions in the United States. Contact me to learn about our 90-Day Ultimate Culture and Performance Quick Start Program.
  • Contact me if you are interested in information about bringing the most creative and effective culture, climate and performance learning approach, The Culture Journey Experience (updates pending, check back soon), to your industry group, association, conference, or organization.
  • Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter so I can learn from your insights.
  • I am always open to interviews, podcasts, culture commentary, speaking events with The Culture Journey Experience and guest blog posts!
  • See podcasts with me on The Culture Lab and coming soon to The Culture Gap. These are two great resources for culture experts and change agents…thank you to Aga Bajer and Daniel Forester for building these great communities.

Shaping Your Culture For Competitive Advantage

Most leaders have heard the expression, “You need to drive your culture or it will drive your business—for better or worse.” In reality, putting these words into action to achieve real cultural change with sustainable, measurable results is a long-term journey. The payoff is huge. With vision, focus, and investment in the right culture experts, diagnostics, and change processes, a Constructive culture can drive significant business performance.

This was clearly demonstrated at the recent 3rd Annual Ultimate Culture Conference hosted by Human Synergistics in an experiential workshop, Culture as an Accelerator to Performance, which included a fascinating case study of a five-year journey to a ‘blue’ Constructive culture at the Canadian grocery and drug store giant, Loblaw Companies Limited.

Mike Marino, President and CEO (ret. 2018) of culture-shaping firm Senn Delaney, a division of Heidrick Consulting, kicked off the workshop using a discussion tool called The Culture Continuum. The Culture Continuum, detailed below, describes six levels or stages of culture maturity, and the actions, behaviors, and thinking that typically show up at each level. To stimulate group discussion in the workshop, Marino briefly described each level while asking participants to imagine the workplace culture of their own organization and determine where it lies on the continuum. Participants came away with a deeper understanding of culture to help them engage in strategic discussions with executive teams on how to begin to evolve their culture.

Beyond culture as a concept, participants also learned about how a Constructive culture can be developed. Mark Wilson, Loblaw Executive Vice President, Human Resources and Labor Relations, described the five-year strategic framework to change culture and climate using an integrated approach based on Senn Delaney’s culture-shaping methodology and Human Synergistics’ culture and leadership assessments. These diagnostics help members of organizations understand shared behavioral norms and support their individual development programs. The case study, detailed below, illustrates how this combined approach transformed the Loblaw culture with an impressive return on investment tied to improved business results and increased engagement.

Understanding where your culture is on the ‘Culture Continuum’

Over its 40 years of work helping companies shape their cultures, Senn Delaney has found that many companies suffer from an insider view of their workplace culture based on long-held beliefs and assumptions. Without an objective understanding of their culture’s real behaviors and norms, leaders would get stuck attempting to change the culture due to the absence of a clear path to sustained, measurable transformation based on objective data.

As you read the descriptions below, drawn from the article, Find Your Place on the Culture Continuum, think about where your organization fits.1 You can begin to identify areas of strength, challenges thwarting performance, where the culture could progress, and how the culture could be a game changer that enables competitive advantage, synergy, cost savings, strategic execution, innovation, and business performance.

  

Complacent (level 0): We’re content with how things get done

How a complacent culture shows up: Leaders are content with how things are done. They may have a completely unrealistic view of the actual culture, or lack of awareness of the culture. Culture is never a factor in strategic discussion. There’s no linkage between HR processes and such foundational elements as mission, vision, and values — and no way of measuring how people are (or aren’t) aligned with them.

Marino said he meets leaders all the time who don’t think they have a culture. “They have a culture! They are either unaware of it or they are content or they haven’t thought about.” He warned that complacency is a trap that even successful companies can fall into—to their peril.
Curious (level 1): We can do better; let’s get started

How a curious culture shows up: Leaders recognize that culture matters. Values are taken seriously and included in onboarding. However, there is little coordinated effort to communicate what the values mean or how behaviors drive the values.

Marino noted that more companies than ever are at this stage of understanding culture better and wanting to move the needle. “Twenty-five years ago, when we would try to have a conversation about culture, we couldn’t even get a meeting with a senior leader. Today, we get meetings and they already have units of the organization in place working on culture. That’s how much we’ve changed, and how curious people are getting. People in human resources usually come into play at this point because something has happened in the market that indicates they have to be different.”

Committed (level 2): As leaders, we drive the culture

How a committed culture shows up: Culture matters, and resources are committed to improving it. Values are linked to specific behaviors in performance reviews, and positive results are occurring. Nevertheless, there is still no link to return on investment, and some senior leaders proclaim love for the values without actually living them.

“The biggest insight is that leaders figure out they lead the culture because otherwise the culture is leading them,” Marino said. They begin to visualize the ideal culture and are proactive about making the changes needed to realize it.

Catalyzed (level 3): How does this affect our business?

How a catalyzed culture shows up: A spirit of curiosity, openness, and continuous improvement permeates the company, fueled by a strong vision, purpose, and values. Tying culture to performance is a business imperative, with culture and people metrics established and linked to return on investment.

As the culture work progresses in an organization, leaders become deeply invested in understanding how the results from the culture changes taking place can be quantified. Marino called this an important inflection point. “They’re asking, ‘How does this now start to impact our return on investment? How does this impact business performance?’”

Customer centric (level 4): Our employees’ experience is our customers’ experience

How a customer-centric culture shows up: The environment (climate) created for employees is increasingly the one that customers experience, and it is reflected in strong customer satisfaction scores. People feel empowered to make customer-related decisions based on principles, not procedures. The goal is to be internally aligned and externally adaptable.

Marino noted that, in this phase, the customer and employee experiences are interdependent; the culture has empowered and engaged employees who in turn deliver better customer service. Leaders are clear on how this is improving customer ratings and enabling stronger performance.

Continuous (level 5): Our culture is our strategic asset

How a continuous culture shows up: Leaders can list the positive aspects of their workplace culture that must never change, yet they are agile in pursuing opportunities in an evolving market. When customers or employees speak, leaders listen and make visible improvements based on what is learned.

Marino noted that a continuous culture is really about evolving to stay agile. “It just becomes part of ‘the way we are’ and is seen as a strategic asset.”

While understanding where your culture is on the continuum puts you on the right path, deeper diagnostics and a rigorous process are critical to achieve goals and embed the culture you envision.

The journey to creating the ‘blue’ culture

There is a clear distinction between changing a culture and shaping a culture, as Marino noted in his workshop. “Changing means you’ve got to be different. Shaping means there’s an element of what you’re doing that you want to keep, that you want to build on.” That is what Loblaw set out to do using both Human Synergistics’ assessments for measuring attributes of organizational culture and individual behavioral styles and Senn Delaney’s culture-shaping methodology to embed the desired culture.

Video clip: Mike shares Senn Delaney’s four principles of culture shaping

 

Wilson summarized it, noting that, “We’ve had two great partners—Human Synergistics and Senn Delaney. We found a way to integrate them really well.”

The speed of change: Three catalysts for cultural change

A $46-billion organization with 200,000 employees, Loblaw is composed of six divisions, including 2,300 grocery and drug stores, an apparel business, and a bank. Wilson described the workplace culture five years ago as being stuck between 0 and 1 (Complacent and Curious) on the Senn Delaney Culture Continuum. Fundamental changes to Loblaw’s culture, ways of working, and cost base were necessary to achieve the company vision of becoming a lean, agile organization of collaborative teams accountable for delivering responsive and innovative customer solutions and fulfilling its purpose of helping Canadians ‘Live Life Well.’

Wilson described three catalysts that compelled leaders to act to transform the culture.

Speed of Change Initiative: The company had spent $2 billion to upgrade its supply chain and IT infrastructure with unclear benefits. The board was anxious to see a return on that investment. A.T. Kearney was brought in to analyze the issues. It found that half the problems in achieving synergy and cost savings from the supply chain and IT investments were culture-related, including clear issues of internal fighting, siloes, passive-aggressive behavior, and lack of collaboration.

Acquisition of Shoppers Drug Mart: Knowing that 75% of acquisitions fail to realize their fullest potential because of culture clashes, management and the board wanted to ensure that the pharmacy chain (a $14-billion acquisition) was integrated with maximum synergy.

Potential Labor Dispute: A strike of 20,000 workers loomed, which posed a potential major threat to profits. “We got past it, but the sole reason why we almost had that $60-million strike was all because of the relationship we had with our leaders in the stores and our colleagues; it was fractured,” notes Wilson.

Together, these three catalysts painted a sobering picture. “Our culture was breaking us as an organization, and we had to make drastic changes,” said Wilson.

Understanding behavioral state of health

During the Shoppers Drug Mart acquisition, Human Synergistics was engaged to conduct its Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®).2 Wilson stated: “We asked ourselves, ‘What do we think the culture is today, and what is the culture we want to aspire to?” The OCI provides a visual model, the Circumplex,3 which displays the levels of red (Aggressive/Defensive behavioral styles), green (Passive/Defensive behavioral styles), and blue (Constructive behavioral styles) that exist within the organization.4 The OCI revealed that there was work to do to move the organization to a more Constructive state of blue.

Results from Human Synergistics’ Life Styles Inventory™ (LSI), an individual development tool that uses both self-assessment and feedback from colleagues to identify individual thinking and behavioral styles, also provided the ‘ah-has’ that the culture needed to shift.5 People across the organization galvanized around the notion of creating a ‘blue’ culture, and so the name for the Loblaw culture was born.

Loblaw began to work on creating a more agile culture in 2014, with a focus on assessing and developing the organization and its leaders.

In 2016, a simple framework was created to guide the culture-shaping process in three important areas:

Shift Mindsets: Create behavior change through experiential sessions that inspire and enable colleagues to put personal change commitments into action. Led by the Team Management Board, aligned to the business strategy, and with the customer at the core, the behavioral changes would be driven by core values and talent and engagement efforts.

Institutionalize Culture: Reinforce desired behaviors by embedding culture principles into people programs, institutional processes, and daily practices and ways of working.

Energize the Organization: Engage colleagues in the culture journey through Culture Champions, communications campaigns, and fun events to drive awareness, understanding, and change.

Embed and Sustain: A support structure was developed for leaders to cast the right shadow as culture was infused in revised HR programs, institutional processes, performance development, and measurements. Culture Champions from across the organization assisted with the transformation. More than 30,000 people went through an experimental two-day program, B3: Better Me, Better We, Better Loblaw, that helped people understand where they were and how they as individuals can contribute to a Better Loblaw through the core values and cultural principles. They also used the Life Styles Inventory™ as part of this program. A collaborative approach was needed for culture transformation at stores and distribution centers. A “We Project” was launched that included communication, joint business planning, store visits and more. “The We Project was about re-engineering our performance development program, and really reaching out to our colleagues to say, how do we be better leaders and develop ourselves, and be better coaches in line with our culture as to where we’re going?” said Wilson.

Major milestones of the evolution to the blue culture included:

Readiness for change: The culture journey began with leaders recognizing that as they worked to create a more agile organization, they needed to consider people and processes, and ensure the culture enabled success and sustainable benefits.

Walk the talk of change: Three-day workshops for executives created personal awareness and insights, leading to openness for change. Leaders wanted to become more involved in shaping the culture, and 12 culture champions were born. The Life Styles Inventory™ (LSI) was introduced in executive workshops, providing a framework for thinking about ‘how’ they work.

Assessment and leadership commitment: Loblaw team members were surveyed using the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) to measure and examine the current culture. Colleagues resoundingly said they wanted a more Constructive ‘blue’ culture. The Management Board used the Ideal form of the OCI to define the ideal culture. A Culture Champion group, made up of executives committed to driving cultural change, was formed and provided skills and training to model the ideal culture and related behaviors. An EVP was appointed to lead the culture change.

Awareness-building: The decision was made to align to one set of values across the enterprise, and a soft launch of core values was done. Three simple culture principals—be authentic, build trust, make connections­—served as a foundation for bringing the culture and values to life. Communications campaigns were built to broaden awareness, create buy-in, and inspire change. Wilson noted that they wanted to make bringing the ‘blue’ culture to life fun and memorable. An example of how they made this happen was a “Summer of Blue” campaign, where daily tips were shared on how to be blue. They also held a “Mission Blue” campaign and training with a nod to Mission: Impossible, where participants all received blue Converse sneakers.

Results of the transformation work in progress

What results were realized from such a robust culture-shaping journey? Looking back on the process that began in 2014, Wilson pointed to several, noting the journey continues in 2018 and beyond.

Video clip: Mark Wilson shares results of Loblaw’s culture journey

 

Among the results:

  • Recognized $375 million in benefits attributed to systems and supply chain investments
  • Achieved $300-million synergy target from acquisition of Shoppers Drug Mart in two years instead of three; exceeded half a billion dollars in synergies within three years
  • Increased grocery store engagement by 8% over two years
  • Increased pharmacy store engagement by 8% to best in class over two years
  • Increased distribution center engagement by 13% over two years

“We feel that we are transforming the culture,” said Wilson. “I think the business absolutely does realize that, had we not gone on this culture journey, there’s no way we would have hit these numbers and where we needed to go.”

 

Notes:

1 Heidrick & Struggles. (2017, Dec. 7). Find Your Place on the Culture Continuum. Retrieved from http://www.heidrick.com/Knowledge-Center/Publication/Find_your_place_on_the_culture_continuum

2 Cooke, R. A. & Lafferty, J. C. (1987). Organizational Culture Inventory®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

3 Terminology from Robert A. Cooke, Ph.D. and J. Clayton Lafferty, Ph.D., Organizational Culture Inventory® and Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®, Human Synergistics International, Plymouth, MI. Copyright © 1987-2007. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

4 OCI® style names and descriptions are from Robert A. Cooke, Ph.D. and J. Clayton Lafferty, Ph.D., Organizational Culture Inventory®, Human Synergistics International, Plymouth, MI. Copyright © 1987-2007. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

5 Lafferty, J. C. (1973). Life Styles Inventory™. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

Top Five Culture Posts of 2017 on CultureUniversity.com

Top 5 Culture Posts of 2017

The interest in culture continues to grow but this growth comes with a proliferation of over-simplified and incorrect information about culture and culture change. Culture University was launched in 2014 to cut through this misinformation and it’s grown to be a great resource for leaders and change agents (this is post #191).

Five new posts garnered the highest traffic in 2017 and my personal top insight from each post is captured in the list below.

#5 – Creating a World-Class Onboarding Program Aligned with Your Culture

By Chris Williams

This post featured a startling statistic: 33% of new hires look for a new job in the first six months.

I enjoyed the seven tips for creating a world-class onboarding program: immerse them in your culture, design the onboarding experience backwards, pace and sequence onboarding over time, give them the puzzle box top (the big picture/context), show them how they connect to your strategy, tool up your managers, and show them their development roadmap.

Creating a World-Class Onboarding Program

#4 – Changing the Culture of Government and Beyond

By Tim Kuppler

I wrote this post when the debate about the federal government transition in the United States was at an all-time high. Little did I know that debate would only grow.

It’s unlikely these approaches will be applied on a large scale in the short-term but that was explained in the article. We are seeing courageous and visionary leaders in some federal, state and local government agencies applying these common-sense approaches and seeing positive results in a short period of time.

Changing the Culture of Government

#3 – To Drive Culture Change Identify a Critical Few Behaviors

By Kristy Hull

I love it when a post zeroes in on a specific culture fundamental that is not widely understood.

The fundamental in this case is the need to focus on a “critical few” behaviors. This has been advocated by many culture experts and pioneers but it’s surprising how rare it is for change efforts to include this focus. The Harvard Business Review published a very detailed article on culture this month but this important insight is totally missing (along with many others) as they cover another culture framework and over-simplified advice.

I also liked the behavior prioritization framework in this CultureU post (see below).

To Drive Culture Change Identify Critical Behaviors

#2 – Closing the Massive Gaps Between Culture Awareness, Education and Action

By Tim Kuppler

“It’s time to turn the culture world upside down and explode many incorrect notions that are preventing meaningful culture change for organizations and society.”

In this post, I cover a detailed summary of the current state of culture in most organizations, the three major types of culture-related improvement efforts, and proven approaches to close the five major gaps that exist between the current and potential future state of culture in most organizations.

Closing Gaps Between Culture Awareness and Action 

#1 – How to Accelerate Culture Change Across the Organization

By Jerome Parisse-Brassens

I love the concept of “accelerating culture change.”

The post also includes an excellent summary of potential groups to consider in your culture change acceleration strategy: leadership cohort, culture champions, connectors, influencers, customers and external stakeholders, the board, and people open to change. I also liked the research about when “10% of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.” I have heard of numbers as low as 3% being a tipping point for meaningful change.

How to Accelerate Culture Change

Thank You and the future

Thank you to all the contributing authors. CultureU wouldn’t exist without your interest in sharing what you have learned. Thank you to Human Synergistics for continuing to support post administration and, specifically, Kalani Iwi’ula for his excellent blog oversight and Jason Bowes for creating the image-quotes.

CultureU continues to be part of a movement to change the way the world thinks about culture and culture change. If you are interested in being part of this journey and contributing a post to CultureU, see our guest post guideline. One final thank you goes to all of our readers. Your feedback, questions, ideas, and sharing of content on social media are a major part of the journey.

Watch for some exciting announcements in 2018 regarding Culture University and the Human Synergistics Constructive Culture blog, and sign up to receive the high-quality culture educational content.

Don’t Sell, Create the Gap—with Leadership and Culture

We received our best audience feedback ever after the 3rd Annual Ultimate Culture Conference. For the first time, one specific speaker insight stood out and was highlighted by numerous attendees. What was this insight about leadership and culture? Why did it resonate so much? I think it’s a sign of the times as culture transitions from a subject of interest for many to the sustainable driver of effectiveness that many feel compelled to nurture, develop or change.

Make an Impact, Influence Others and Transform Results

Dr. Peter Fuda, Founder and Principal, The Alignment Partnership and Adjunct Professor, Macquarie Graduate School of Management, delivered a captivating presentation titled, Make an Impact, Influence Others and Transform Results. Dr. Fuda was in the middle of his presentation, and the audience was hanging on every word. He said, “We’re all motivated to do this work. Now here’s the problem: You can’t motivate anybody to do anything they don’t want to do. Why? People will tolerate the conclusions of others, but they will only act on their own conclusions.” We’ve all experienced this dynamic in some form. It might be a discussion with an individual or team about a change or another subject that is unbelievably clear…to you. You’ve tried every approach in the book to build some understanding, define the case for change, and engage in a dialogue that truly helps. Sometimes it works; sometimes it’s endlessly frustrating.

PeterFuda_quote_photo_3

Dr. Fuda continued, “Here’s the challenge, and it took me a very long time to figure this out, so I want to give you the shortcuts here today. Don’t sell, create the gap. Don’t sell, create the gap.”

Many people use 360s and other instruments to help define a gap. Dr. Fuda explained that he utilizes a hundred different instruments in his business transformation practice, but there is only one third-party instrument he uses to help leaders visualize the gap. He described it as “the best leadership instrument in the world,” and it’s called Leadership/Impact® (L/I).1Leadership/Impact® basically asks two questions. Ideally, how would you like to motivate and encourage those you lead to behave (their Ideal Impact)? It’s asking you what is your leadership vision. You are setting an aspiration, and then the 360 surveys go out and you get feedback from others and they tell you how you are actually motivating and encouraging them to behave (the second question, which reveals their Current Impact).” The results are plotted on a Circumplex so they can be visually compared.

Research Sample Leadership/Impact® Data

Fuda_blog_Circs

Leadership/Impact® Circumplex. Research and development by Robert A. Cooke, Ph.D. and J. Clayton Lafferty, Ph.D. Copyright © 1989-2017 by Human Synergistics. All Rights Reserved.

He continued, “When they fill in the [Ideal] Leadership/Impact® survey, almost always it looks like that [see left picture above]. They have a very blue picture. Why? Let’s go to common sense corner for a minute. Most leaders want to encourage others to set and achieve worthy goals. They want to encourage and motivate people to bring their whole self to work and think and act in creative and innovative ways to solve real problems. They want to encourage people to develop themselves and develop others, and they want to encourage people to work collaboratively as a team. All this does is codify that with rigor and validity and all the rest of it.”

Not only do leaders consistently report these Constructive styles (blue) as being ideal; they systematically view the Aggressive/Defensive (red) and Passive/Defensive (green) styles as inappropriate and not to be encouraged. In general, their ideal profiles show minimal or non-existent extensions along Passive styles such as Dependence and Avoidance and, at most, moderate extensions along Aggressive styles such as Competitive and Power.

Seeing the Gap

“Here’s what happens when they see their actual impact…now they’re suffering post-traumatic rationalization. They might say, “You know what, Peter? I think the 85th percentile Power is really a good thing because we’re in a tough industry, we’ve got to kick ass and take names.” So what do I do? I let them get it all out because I’ve heard it all before. I’ve probably perfected some of those strategies myself…then I say let’s just go to pages further on. Is that in your Ideal? It’s not there [the Power results]. As adults, adult to adult, there is clearly a gap between your noble intentions and how you are currently motivating and encouraging people to behave. The only question today is, are you interested in doing something about the gap? If you’re not interested, there’s nothing I can do to make you change. If you are interested, I can give you some very specific strategies.” Peter explained the assessment results were actually from his doctoral research, and he emphasized that the CEOs involved in the research wanted to bridge the gap. The changes they achieved, described in Peter’s dissertation and his book, were significant and inspiring.2

VIDEO CLIP: Dr. Peter Fuda on the impact of leaders and the constructive cultures they help shape.

History behind “don’t sell, create the gap”

“Don’t sell, create the gap” may sound obvious on the surface, but there is some history behind the structuring of assessments to enable this approach. I talked to Dr. Robert Cooke, CEO of Human Synergistics and author of Leadership/Impact®, about this history. His interest in “creating the gap” goes back to the development of the Ideal Culture version of the Organizational Culture Inventory®(OCI®).3 In the OCI-Ideal assessment, leadership and other members of the organization define the behaviors they believe should be expected to maximize effectiveness and enable the organization to reach its goals. The OCI-Ideal profile is compared to results on the original version of the OCI, which measures the current culture of an organization in terms of shared behavioral norms—that is, the behaviors that members believe are currently required to “fit in” and meet expectations.

The approach of “creating the gap” has proven far more effective than trying to “sell” leaders on a certain culture. To reiterate Peter’s point, people only act on their own conclusions. Providing them with a side-by-side comparison of the culture or behaviors they’re reinforcing versus those they’d ideally like to drive allows them to reach the conclusion for themselves—and creates the gap in a very real way.

Rob adds, “Though it was unusual, if not unheard of, to generate a personal standard or ideal as part of a 360 survey, our learnings from the OCI-Ideal swayed me to use the self-report form of Leadership/Impact® to capture the leader’s vision. It seemed that an ideal impact section would not only increase their awareness of the fact that they do have an impact, but also provide them with a clear picture of the impact they should work toward. Peter’s extensive advising and research with leaders has shown not only the importance of the ideal, but also how it creates a gap—one that renders the difficult and often futile process of selling unnecessary.”4

Editor’s notes:

Notes:

1 Cooke, R. A. (1996). Leadership/Impact® (L/I). Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

2 Fuda, P. (2013). Leadership Transformed: How Ordinary Managers Become Extraordinary Leaders. New York, NY: New Harvest.

3 Cooke, R. A. & Lafferty, J. C. (1987). Organizational Culture Inventory®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

4 See Chapter 3 (“Master Chef”) in Fuda, P. (2013). Leadership Transformed: How Ordinary Managers Become Extraordinary Leaders. New York, NY: New Harvest.

Culture Pioneers, Progressive Leaders and their Insights on Culture

Culture Pioneers, Progressive Leaders and their Insights on Culture

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. said, “A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.” So, when an opportunity presents itself to learn from those who have repeatedly and successfully managed the culture journey, it’s imperative to take the leap. I shared this post previously on ConstructiveCulture.com and offer it here to ensure these vital insights reach those who, like me, care deeply about workplace culture and effective change.

It’s essential for leaders and change agents to learn from the culture pioneers and experts in this evolving field. Human Synergistics convenes an Ultimate Culture Conference to bring visibility to important insights from culture trailblazers and progressive leaders. If you’re able to attend this forum, make sure you do—you’ll be glad you did. The insights you gain may be worth a life’s experience. Let’s get started.

Do you fully understand your culture and how it’s impacting performance? Are you managing a clear journey to effectively evolve your culture with a direct and sustainable impact on performance? There aren’t many leaders that can confidently answer “yes” to these two questions. We see culture tips and advice at every turn that range from superficial to endlessly complicated. If you are like me, it’s hard to understand what to believe.

The following culture insights made an impact with a passionate audience of culture champions and change agents at the 2016 Ultimate Culture Conference:

Most organizations are being disrupted and culture has become a business imperative

Josh Bersin

Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, fascinated the crowd with his interesting perspectives on culture. He believes we are hearing about culture all the time because “organizations are all going through disruptions.” He continued, “Organizations have technology challenges in their products and services; we should reinvent them for the digital world.” He referenced CEO research coordinated with MIT where “90% of respondents said that their business model is being disrupted by some form of digital disruptor; 70% of them also said ‘I don’t have the right people in the company, I don’t have the right leaders, and I don’t have the right skills.’”1

A Network of Teams

We are especially aware of our culture when we need to adapt or change. Our world is growing in complexity. The need for rapid change and adaptation is clear, but most leaders don’t understand how culture is driving the behavior they see in their organization and the related outcomes.

Define a common language and measurement for culture and climate

Robert Cooke

Robert Cooke, CEO of Human Synergistics, shared this important insight: “We all view the subject of culture from our own perspective, and the word has nearly lost its meaning.” Rob believes a language for culture and its measurement is important because it gives people a way to organize their thoughts around the concept. “I decided to focus on behavioral norms because, even though they are somewhat invisible, they are the more visible aspects of culture when you define it in terms of assumptions, beliefs, values and the like,” he said. These norms or “unwritten rules” are completely overlooked in most assessments and change efforts.

How Culture Works Model

Norms and expectations within an organization are not necessarily driven by the mission, stated values, and what leaders say they want. “Day-to-day norms are instead driven by what people experience around them,” Rob explained. That includes what people experience in terms of structures, systems, technology (especially social aspects like job design), and the skills and qualities of others, including their managers. In many cases, these aspects of the work climate (which we call “levers for change”) fail to communicate or support the desired Constructive norms and expectations—instead, they drive Defensive behaviors, both Aggressive and Passive.2

So how do you begin to define a common language and measurement? This brings us to the third insight.

Combine qualitative and quantitative assessment methods

Edgar Schein

Edgar Schein, of The Organizational Culture and Leadership Institute and Professor Emeritus at MIT, emphasized the value of combining qualitative and quantitative methods in a specific order. “The qualitative has to come up front: What are you trying to do? What problem are you trying to solve?” Ed urged change agents to develop a personal “Level Two relationship” and understand what leaders are trying to do. It may then be “entirely appropriate to utilize a measurement tool.”

Ed explained, “the advantage of the quantitative is you can deal with large numbers and compare them and look at trends over time. For that purpose, the qualitative isn’t very helpful.” After quantitative analysis, “we have to go back to qualitative because a program of actually intervening in the organization is not going to fly out of the numbers. The numbers will only tell you roughly where you have to work and the direction in which you have to go. The steps of the intervention, what you’re actually going to do day-by-day, is going to be a qualitative process because that organization will have all kinds of unique aspects that the quantitative doesn’t pick up.”

Ed also talked about the “quick and dirty” assessments that have emerged in the marketplace. He encouraged change agents to understand what’s going on with the leader and why speed is so important to them. Find out what’s worrying them and why they won’t consider a more intensive and revealing probe.

Leadership must get ahead of the curve and make bold decisions to evolve the culture

Jon Wolske

This insight came from an important source: Zappos. They have been a poster child in the world of culture for more than a decade. Jon Wolske, a workplace culture specialist who held key roles at Zappos Insights most notably as a Culture Evangelist, shared how the organization grew and had slipped into the typical organizational structure based on a “command and control” model. Decisions were made at the top, leaving the people doing the work without a say in how things were done. “For years and years and years we have been working top-down, and people are just starting to realize, wait a minute, what if working top-down isn’t working?” Jon said. “And so, on the bigger picture of organizational structure, somebody is going to figure out what’s next and then all those old-school businesses are going to be left in the dust.”

Tony Hsieh made a bold decision to deliver “WOW” through service with a move toward self-management. I am not raising this point to encourage others to make a similar leap because most organizations don’t have the customer-focused culture foundation of Zappos. I am raising it because even iconic culture companies realize culture is a dynamic thing that must evolve. Learn from their lead and change before you must. How are you intentionally evolving your culture to support your purpose and performance priorities? What bold decisions have you made to engage members throughout your organization in that journey?

Zappos Wow Service

I recently toured Zappos and was amazed by how “WOW” service was being genuinely reinforced in literally countless ways that leaders could never directly manage. It is possible to preserve important cultural strengths while collectively engaging your organization to take the next major step. There are no guarantees, but a collective journey is far better than standing still or trying to manage improvements through command and control.

Diversity and inclusion are important factors to make better decisions that support the business strategy

Julius Pryor III

Leaders must make the bold decision to evolve the culture, but that doesn’t mean they make all the decisions about what that evolution will look like. Diversity and inclusion are critical. We convened a diversity and inclusion panel at the conference to probe this important topic.

Julius Pryor III, a diversity and inclusion expert who has held related roles with Genentech and P&G, shared some very important insights about their work to deal with the most difficult diseases in the world. He explained, “ultimately this is supposed to not only help us leverage and drive all of the things about creative thinking, innovation, how we develop molecules; it’s supposed to allow us to make better decisions about everything—not just how we hire, develop, promote, retain, do succession planning, not just about how we talk to people about unconscious biases—but ultimately how we develop molecules, how we actually move ideas across lines of demarcation.”

He discussed how Blockbuster and Nokia were completely disrupted by major competitors. Julius continued, “we need to be sure that we are managing and leveraging diversity and inclusion in ways that make sense for our organization, for our enterprise, and we need to be sure that the things that we’re doing are actually connected to the long-term strategy of the organization and that they’re driving clear and realistic results for us.”

Consistent involvement and encouragement are critical for connecting all team members to the improvement journey and to make better decisions as a team.

Two important additional insights to tie it all together

It may be difficult for leaders to apply the insights above (and others) in ways that clearly deliver business results and, ultimately, evolve their culture. Thus, it’s important to understand two additional insights from culture pioneers.

Edgar Schein has emphasized that “culture builds through shared learning and mutual experience.” It’s a group thing, so it’s critical to engage leadership and all team members on a common journey to accelerate learning and deliver results.

Rob Cooke has highlighted that “culture is transmitted through climate factors and behavioral norms.” The current culture is reinforced in countless ways leadership does not fully understand, so that’s why a thorough assessment and thoughtful improvement plan are needed.

To apply these insights, you should engage your organization in a common journey to evolve your culture AND climate in an integrated way that supports your purpose and performance priorities. Follow these general guidelines:

  1. Focus your efforts on specific problems or outcomes you need to improve. The focus on clear priorities (customer experience, growth, quality, etc.) will allow you to facilitate improvements faster than general “culture plans” and the connection to performance is clear. The entire team will learn from the focused work together and those learnings will naturally be applied to other problems and targeted outcomes.
  2. Understand how culture and climate are impacting work on the priorities you select through a thorough qualitative and quantitative assessment. This isn’t a “quick and dirty” assessment, but rather a full MRI to understand the shift in norms and underlying assumptions that are needed in your culture. You will also identify the climate factors (systems, structures, etc.) that are causing these cultural attributes to be so deeply entrenched.
  3. Make a bold decision to engage members of your organization in a common journey to adjust current strategies and plans for the areas you target in number 1 above. Don’t create a separate culture plan. Adjust how you engage leadership and the broader organization in improvement plans so you overcome major cultural obstacles and effectively leverage Constructive aspects of your culture.
  4. Help leaders and managers at all levels understand how their behavior is reinforcing the current culture. Top leaders must go first to learn about this impact and adjust their approach because the “shadow of a leader” is incredibly influential.
  5. Intentionally re-engage groups in meaningful ways at defined periods to adjust plans, accelerate results, and drive learning across the entire team.

Most organizations can effectively cover numbers 1 through 3 in as little as 8-12 weeks. Launching the improved engagement and collective problem-solving approach isn’t easy, but it can be managed in a relatively short period. Leaders inevitably find out why their “hidden organization” is so deeply entrenched and how their own behavior is reinforcing the current state. Numbers 3 and 4 require an ongoing commitment to an individual and collective learning journey to support your purpose, strategy, and performance priorities.

Don’t depend on only your current knowledge about culture to manage this important journey. Ignore the superficial, oversimplified solutions that dominate most blogs and the popular press. Seek out other ultimate culture insights from pioneers and experts who have repeatedly and successfully managed this journey. Learn from their experience and do something that is serious, diligent, and impactful as you support your purpose, collectively solve problems, improve performance and, ultimately, evolve your culture. 

Notes:

1 Bersin, Josh. “Digital Leadership Is Not an Optional Part of Being a CEO.” HBR.org. Harvard Business Review, 10 Dec. 16. Web.

2 Cooke, R. A. and Szumal, J. L. (2000). “Using the Organizational Culture Inventory to understand the operating cultures of organizations.” In Neal M. Ashkanasy, Celeste P.M. Wilderom, Mark F. Peterson (eds.), The Handbook of Organizational Culture and Climate, Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications, pp. 147-162.

Adapted and reprinted with permission from ConstructiveCulture.com. Copyright © 2017 by Human Synergistics International. All rights reserved.

5 Ultimate Culture Insights from Top Culture Pioneers and Progressive Leaders

Do you fully understand your culture and how it’s impacting performance? Are you managing a clear journey to effectively evolve your culture with a direct and sustainable impact on performance? There aren’t many leaders that can confidently answer “yes” to these two questions. We see culture tips and advice at every turn that range from superficial to endlessly complicated. If you are like me, it’s hard to understand what to believe.

It’s very important for leaders and change agents to learn from the culture pioneers and experts in this evolving field. Human Synergistics, therefore, convenes an annual Ultimate Culture Conference to bring visibility to important insights from culture trailblazers and progressive leaders.

The following five ultimate culture insights made an impact with a passionate audience of culture champions and change agents at the 2016 conference:

Most organizations are being disrupted and culture has become a business imperative

Josh-Bersin-325x325Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, fascinated the crowd with his interesting perspectives on culture. He believes we are hearing about culture all the time because “organizations are all going through disruptions.” He continued, “Organizations have technology challenges in their products and services; we should reinvent them for the digital world.” He referenced CEO research coordinated with MIT where “90% of respondents said that their business model is being disrupted by some form of digital disruptor; 70% of them also said ‘I don’t have the right people in the company, I don’t have the right leaders, and I don’t have the right skills.’”1

We are especially aware of our culture when we need to adapt or change. Our world is growing in complexity. The need for rapid change and adaptation is clear, but most leaders don’t understand how culture is driving the behavior they see in their organization and the related outcomes.

Define a common language and measurement for culture and climate

Robert CookeRob Cooke, CEO of Human Synergistics, shared this important insight: “We all view the subject of culture from our own perspective, and the word has nearly lost its meaning.” Rob believes a language for culture and its measurement is important because it gives people a way to organize their thoughts around the concept. “I decided to focus on behavioral norms because, even though they are somewhat invisible, they are the more visible aspects of culture when you define it in terms of assumptions, beliefs, values and the like,” he said. These norms or “unwritten rules” are completely overlooked in most assessments and change efforts.

Norms and expectations within an organization are not necessarily driven by the mission, stated values, and what leaders say they want. “Day-to-day norms are instead driven by what people experience around them,” Rob explained. That includes what people experience in terms of structures, systems, technology (especially social aspects like job design), and the skills and qualities of others, including their managers. In many cases, these aspects of the work climate (which we call “levers for change”) fail to communicate or support the desired Constructive norms and expectations—instead, they drive Defensive behaviors, both Aggressive and Passive.2

So how do you begin to define a common language and measurement? This brings us to the third insight.

Combine qualitative and quantitative assessment methods

Edgar-Schein_avatarEdgar Schein, of The Organizational Culture and Leadership Institute and Professor Emeritus at MIT,  emphasized the value of combining qualitative and quantitative methods in a specific order. “The qualitative has to come up front: What are you trying to do? What problem are you trying to solve?” Ed urged change agents to develop a personal “Level Two relationship” and understand what leaders are trying to do. It may then be “entirely appropriate to utilize a measurement tool.”

Ed explained, “the advantage of the quantitative is you can deal with large numbers and compare them and look at trends over time. For that purpose, the qualitative isn’t very helpful.” After quantitative analysis, “we have to go back to qualitative because a program of actually intervening in the organization is not going to fly out of the numbers. The numbers will only tell you roughly where you have to work and the direction in which you have to go. The steps of the intervention, what you’re actually going to do day-by-day, is going to be a qualitative process because that organization will have all kinds of unique aspects that the quantitative doesn’t pick up.”

Ed also talked about the “quick and dirty” assessments that have emerged in the marketplace. He encouraged change agents to understand what’s going on with the leader and why speed is so important to them. Find out what’s worrying them and why they won’t consider a more intensive and revealing probe.

Leadership must get ahead of the curve and make bold decisions to evolve the culture

Jon_Wolske_outlinedThis insight came from an important source: Zappos. They have been a poster child in the world of culture for more than a decade. Jon Wolske, Zappos Culture Evangelist, shared how the organization grew and had slipped into the typical organizational structure based on a “command and control” model. Decisions were made at the top, leaving the people doing the work without a say in how things were done. “For years and years and years we have been working top-down, and people are just starting to realize, wait a minute, what if working top-down isn’t working?” Jon said. “And so, on the bigger picture of organizational structure, somebody is going to figure out what’s next and then all those old-school businesses are going to be left in the dust.”

Tony Hsieh made a bold decision to deliver “WOW” through service with a move toward self-management. I am not raising this point to encourage others to make a similar leap because most organizations don’t have the customer-focused culture foundation of Zappos. I am raising it because even iconic culture companies realize culture is a dynamic thing that must evolve. Learn from their lead and change before you must. How are you intentionally evolving your culture to support your purpose and performance priorities? What bold decisions have you made to engage members throughout your organization in that journey?

I recently toured Zappos and was amazed by how “WOW” service was being genuinely reinforced in literally countless ways that leaders could never directly manage. It is possible to preserve important cultural strengths while collectively engaging your organization to take the next major step. There are no guarantees, but a collective journey is far better than standing still or trying to manage improvements through command and control.

Diversity and inclusion are important factors to make better decisions that support the business strategy

JPryor3Leaders must make the bold decision to evolve the culture, but that doesn’t mean they make all the decisions about what that evolution will look like. Diversity and inclusion are critical. We convened a diversity and inclusion panel at the conference to probe this important topic.

Julius Pryor III, a diversity and inclusions expert who has held related roles with Genentech and P&G, shared some very important insights about their work to deal with the most difficult diseases in the world. He explained, “ultimately this is supposed to not only help us leverage and drive all of the things about creative thinking, innovation, how we develop molecules; it’s supposed to allow us to make better decisions about everything–not just how we hire, develop, promote, retain, do succession planning, not just about how we talk to people about unconscious biases–but ultimately how we develop molecules, how we actually move ideas across lines of demarcation.”

He discussed how Blockbuster and Nokia were completely disrupted by major competitors. Julius continued, “we need to be sure that we are managing and leveraging diversity and inclusion in ways that make sense for our organization, for our enterprise, and we need to be sure that the things that we’re doing are actually connected to the long-term strategy of the organization and that they’re driving clear and realistic results for us.”

Consistent involvement and encouragement are critical for connecting all team members to the improvement journey and to make better decisions as a team.

Two important additional insights to tie it all together

It may be difficult for leaders to apply the insights above (and others) in ways that clearly deliver business results and, ultimately, evolve their culture. Thus, it’s important to understand two additional insights from culture pioneers.

Edgar Schein has emphasized that “culture builds through shared learning and mutual experience.” It’s a group thing, so it’s critical to engage leadership and all team members on a common journey to accelerate learning and deliver results.

Rob Cooke has highlighted that “culture is transmitted through climate factors and behavioral norms.” The current culture is reinforced in countless ways leadership does not fully understand, so that’s why a thorough assessment and thoughtful improvement plan are needed.

To apply these insights, you should engage your organization in a common journey to evolve your culture AND climate in an integrated way that supports your purpose and performance priorities. Follow these general guidelines:

  1. Focus your efforts on specific problems or outcomes you need to improve. The focus on clear priorities (customer experience, growth, quality, etc.) will allow you to facilitate improvements faster than general “culture plans” and the connection to performance is clear. The entire team will learn from the focused work together and those learnings will naturally be applied to other problems and targeted outcomes.
  2. Understand how culture and climate are impacting work on the priorities you select through a thorough qualitative and quantitative assessment. This isn’t a “quick and dirty” assessment, but rather a full MRI to understand the shift in norms and underlying assumptions that are needed in your culture. You will also identify the climate factors (systems, structures, etc.) that are causing these cultural attributes to be so deeply entrenched.
  3. Make a bold decision to engage members of your organization in a common journey to adjust current strategies and plans for the areas you target in number 1 above. Don’t create a separate culture plan. Adjust how you engage leadership and the broader organization in improvement plans so you overcome major cultural obstacles and effectively leverage Constructive aspects of your culture.
  4. Help leaders and managers at all levels understand how their behavior is reinforcing the current culture. Top leaders must go first to learn about this impact and adjust their approach because the “shadow of a leader” is incredibly influential.
  5. Intentionally re-engage groups in meaningful ways at defined periods to adjust plans, accelerate results, and drive learning across the entire team.

Most organizations can effectively cover numbers 1 through 3 in as little as 8-12 weeks. Launching the improved engagement and collective problem-solving approach isn’t easy, but it can be managed in a relatively short period. Leaders inevitably find out why their “hidden organization” is so deeply entrenched and how their own behavior is reinforcing the current state. Numbers 3 and 4 require an ongoing commitment to an individual and collective learning journey to support your purpose, strategy, and performance priorities.

Don’t depend on only your current knowledge about culture to manage this important journey. Ignore the superficial, oversimplified solutions that dominate most blogs and the popular press. Seek out other ultimate culture insights from pioneers and experts that have repeatedly and successfully managed this journey. Learn from their experience and do something that is serious, diligent, and impactful as you support your purpose, collectively solve problems, improve performance and, ultimately, evolve your culture.

Discover more culture insights from Marshall Goldsmith, Rob Cooke, Ed Schein, and others at the next Ultimate Culture Conference. Network with and learn from the brightest in leadership and culture at this one-of-kind, interactive learning event. Register today—don’t miss this event!

Notes:

1 Bersin, Josh. “Digital Leadership Is Not an Optional Part of Being a CEO.” HBR.org. Harvard Business Review, 10 Dec. 16. Web.

2Cooke, R. A. and Szumal, J. L. (2000). “Using the Organizational Culture Inventory to understand the operating cultures of organizations.” In Neal M. Ashkanasy, Celeste P.M. Wilderom, Mark F. Peterson (eds.), The Handbook of Organizational Culture and Climate, Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications, pp. 147-162.

5 Ultimate Culture Insights from Top Culture Pioneers and Progressive Leaders

5 Ultimate Culture Insights

Do you fully understand your culture and how it’s impacting performance? Are you managing a clear journey to effectively evolve your culture with a direct and sustainable impact on performance? There aren’t many leaders that can confidently answer “yes” to these two questions. We see culture tips and advice at every turn that range from superficial to endlessly complicated. If you are like me, it’s hard to understand what to believe. Continue reading “5 Ultimate Culture Insights from Top Culture Pioneers and Progressive Leaders”

Advice for Leaders from the Organizational Culture Pioneers

Culture Pioneer Panel—Edgar Schein, Larry Senn & Robert Cooke

To accelerate the culture learning curve and truly impact the world, it’s critical to build on the experience of pioneers in the field of organizational culture. Our Culture Pioneer Panel, one of the unique highlights of the Ultimate Culture Conference, featured insights from three of these trailblazers: Edgar Schein, Larry Senn, and Robert Cooke.

One panel question that I knew would lead to some interesting answers about the future of work and organizational culture was:

Interest in the subject of culture is growing dramatically. As you look into the future, how do you see this interest evolving, and what should leaders do to get ahead of the curve in order to make an even greater impact? 

The answers to this question captivated the crowd, and key insights are summarized below this video excerpt. If you have not already done so, sign up and join our Ultimate Culture Community to view the full video.

Edgar Schein, Professor Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management and one of the most influential authorities in the culture field

Ed delineated several forces that are “moving us toward a new way of thinking about leadership and, by implication, how to handle workplace culture and the deeper cultural issues.” He focused on two of these forces:

  • Complexity of Technologies: Ed reviewed the history of complexity, noting that computers were originally built by one engineer and now require teams of engineers who have to collaborate. He shared how this complexity is increasing everywhere, such as in operating rooms in medicine and in public health. “More and more people have to know what each other does and somehow find ways of doing it [together]. That forces communication more than people like us standing up and saying ‘communication is good.’ But if people can’t get the job done unless they communicate, then suddenly they say: ‘What was this about communication, again?’”
  • Social Responsibility: Ethics, what’s good for the environment, and what’s good for the employee have become not just talking points, but programmatic. “The fact that we have culture managers is weird, where does that fit?… Culture management tells us there’s a change in society and in thinking about personal and interpersonal issues.” There is enough disengagement, low morale, and ineffectiveness that “questions are being asked in the management culture itself… That wouldn’t have been thought necessary in the old managerial culture.” Some of Ed’s key takeaways around the increased importance of social responsibility included:
    • “There are serious external forces that are creating the groundwork for people like us to say: ‘Well you know, we know something about this…maybe we can help.’”
    • “I was recently working with a company that threw out the HR label and said it’s ‘People Management’…. What does that symbolize?”
    • “There are forces that will create different kinds of leaders that will be more amenable to the kinds of messages we are sending…I see this as a slow evolution.”

Larry Senn, founder and chairman of culture-shaping firm Senn Delaney, a Heidrick & Struggles company

Larry started with a quote from a conversation he had with Ray Smith, former Chairman and CEO of Bell Atlantic: “If I put my ear down on the railroad track, I can hear the train coming, and we ain’t ready.”

He then discussed some of the powerful forces that are leading us to look at culture:

  • Greater need for collaboration than ever before: Companies are made of acquired organizations that haven’t fully been acquired, and there is tremendous industry consolidation going on. Achieving cross-organization synergy therefore is very important.1
  • Need for agility and developing thriving organizations: Research has shown that thriving organizations have three things: 1) purpose and direction, 2) vitality (living a healthy set of values), and 3) a learning and growth mindset. How you create thriving and renewing organizations that keep up with challenges and opportunities is very important.2

“Leaders are going to begin to recognize that they need some help in getting there…Far, far too many culture initiatives fail or mess around with climate, or something else, or engagement—and really don’t change the culture.”

Robert Cooke, CEO of Human Synergistics and author of the most widely used culture assessment, the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®)

Rob provided examples from various presentations of organizations achieving relatively specific objectives by focusing on their culture in general rather than narrowly on the “culture” surrounding the targeted outcome.3 He noted, “I have always had a problem with change initiatives designed exclusively around a culture for quality, culture for engagement, culture for safety or whatever the thing might be after the word for.” The larger organizational culture may not support the type of “mini-culture” desired or it may even run counter to it.

In the future, leaders should consider how the specialized targets or outcomes in which they are interested at a given point in time can be realized by a larger, more general, and encompassing cultural change rather than by one focusing only on safety, quality, engagement, or so on. By taking this approach, Rob believes leaders and organizations will actually be more successful in accomplishing what they are trying to do in the first place.4

Rob’s point sparked some interesting feedback from the other culture pioneers:

  • Larry agreed with Rob’s point and added a fitting quote: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
  • Ed shared that one of the most powerful ways the larger culture learns is through telling stories of what can happen. These stories articulate how you can work your way out of a bad situation.

This post just touches the surface of the insights shared during the panel discussion and the larger conference. Again, sign up for our Ultimate Culture Community to view the video of the complete panel discussion, as well as full videos of all the conference presentations, including those from Ed, Larry, and Rob.

Notes:

1 Larry Senn (2014). The last frontier: Maximizing organizational synergies. Huntington Beach, CA: Senn Delaney.

2 Carole Dweck (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Ballantine/Random House.

3 Stephan Lindegaard (2015). Work culture beats Innovation culture: Inspiration from Google. http://65b.fb1.mwp.accessdomain.com/2015/09/09/workculturegoogle/.

4 Martin Marquardt and David Bonenberger (2015). A personal touch to safety culture: Sustaining excellent personal safety at work. Paper presented at Human Synergistics’ 1st Annual Ultimate Culture Conference, Chicago, IL.