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How to Find a Consultant to Really Change Corporate Culture

By Steve Salisbury

Twenty-five years ago, I created the term “Cross-Functional Dysfunction.” At the time, I was leading the Electronic-Commerce Department at Whirlpool Corporation. We struggled to deliver e-commerce solutions in part because divergent functions in the organization did not work well together. For example, we needed information from accounts receivable to include on purchase order confirmation notices that went to our large customers. Their systems and processes didn’t work with order management to make it happen. This is just one example.

colleagues discussing culture

There were other examples that led me to refer to situations in which divergent functions could not work together as “cross-functional dysfunctions.” Today, cross-functional dysfunction still exists within many of our organizations. When I mention the term to others, the reaction is anything from a smile to out loud laughter. People know. Cross-functional dysfunction is a cultural issue which, when effectively addressed, improves collaboration, promotes improved cross-functional solutions, and fuels organizational performance.

Why you need a culture consultant

The situation described above is a clear example of a dysfunctional culture. The performance of each of the vertical organizations in the company was measured by different metrics. There was little incentive to work together to resolve organizational process and communication issues.

At one of my consulting clients, business development teams underperformed due to unclear goals and objectives. They were also treated poorly by their leadership and adjoining departments. This was a cultural issue that needed to be addressed to provide greater clarity of purpose, and greater respect across the organizations for the variety of interdependent tasks that must be completed for a firm to enjoy success.

“One of the most valuable assets a culture consultant brings to a client is a fresh and unique perspective. Sometimes leaders are so steeped in their organization that they are unable to see the forest for the trees. The organizational consultant helps bring to light issues and concerns that they might not otherwise see.”
–Steve Salisbury

The pandemic created an environment where employees had to work remotely. Now in the post-pandemic phase, these same employees recognize that they can complete much of their work from home. This has led to greater balance in favor of one’s personal and family life. This has also led to more people looking for alternative means of employment. Some call it “the great resignation”; I label it an era of leadership crisis. With more people working from home, a cultural issue has arisen with regard to understanding and respecting peoples’ availability, work environment, and leadership styles. It’s no longer about putting in 40 hours a week on the job; it’s about delivering to expectations.

What does a good culture consultant do?

The first step in addressing culture is to assess the current state and determine the desired future state. A culture consultant will use tools such as Human Synergistics Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) to understand features of the current state and parameters desired for the future state. The consultant may also use Human Synergistics Organizational Effectiveness Inventory® (OEI) to identify levers to effect change and improvement. The consultant will assess and then debrief the leaders on the results of the assessment.

Once the debriefing of the assessment is complete, the consultant will facilitate the development of improvement plans. In the ideal situation, the client leadership team takes the responsibility to develop those plans, with guidance and direction provided by the culture consultant.

Finally, as the organization implements its cultural improvement activities, the consultant will be there to coach and advise the leadership team on how to deal with various implementation issues, risks, resistance, and other challenges that might come up. Optimally, the culture consultant draws on deep organizational knowledge and experience to provide this support.

What does a culture consultant bring to the table? What is their value add?

One of the most valuable assets a culture consultant brings to a client is a fresh and unique perspective. Sometimes leaders are so steeped in their organization that they are unable to see the forest for the trees. The organizational consultant helps bring to light issues and concerns that they might not otherwise see. They will also highlight strengths the organization has that the leadership could leverage to improve their culture.

While this is not mandatory, an organizational consultant often brings industry knowledge and experience to the table. For example, I spent many years of my career working in and around information technology from a business perspective. This has helped me to advise CIOs on things they could do to improve customer service while developing their culture.

Finally, a culture consultant can bring to bear many different resources they might have in their network to help save clients time, money, or other resources. For example, one client I had recently needed coaching for its senior leadership team. I was able to partner with a colleague to provide leadership assessments which we used as the starting point for a coaching program to develop their leadership skills. This was inherent to their cultural improvement program.

What to look for in a culture consultant

There are several characteristics which are important to the development of culture. These four are the ones that I think will make the biggest difference to help develop culture.

Analysis. A good culture consultant will be able to analyze culture assessments to understand patterns, cause and effect, and actions which might improve the organization’s culture.

Project development. The culture consultant will be prepared to work with the organization’s leadership team to devise a realistic, pragmatic plan for improving culture. This includes delineating specific activities and tasks that various members of the leadership team are assigned to develop and execute throughout the cultural improvement initiative.

Risk management. Based on their deep knowledge and experience working with a variety of industries, companies and cultures, the organizational culture consultant can identify risks to the execution of the culture development plan. Their experience gives them the insight to see such risks earlier than insiders. Not only do culture consultants identify those risks, but they also help the leadership team develop mitigation plans to address them.

Alignment. Finally, the consultant can align various project sponsors to ensure consistent focus on the development of and execution of the cultural improvement plan. The effective consultant works with the senior leadership team to ensure alignment by having robust conversations about specific impacts and results across the organization. This goes a long way to eliminate cross-functional dysfunction.

How do I find a great culture consultant?

First, explore Human Synergistics. They have a roster of accredited consultants who work with their assessment tools to develop cultural improvement plans. They have multiple resources in major metropolitan areas; I, for example, am accredited in the OCI and OEI assessments and I support the Chicago area.

Ask your peers. Given cross-functional dysfunctions, the great resignation, and the other forces discussed above, more organizations are looking at improving their cultures or have already done so. The chances are great that people you work with in other companies have some experience collaborating with an organizational culture consultant. Ask them for those contacts, and ask them what worked, and what didn’t. Leverage the learning of peers in other organizations, both in and beyond your industry.

Consider solo or independent culture change consultants as well as big consulting firms. Some organizations prefer working with large, corporate culture consulting firms where they can have a variety of resources available for various needs. Typically, they have bigger budgets to address these project requirements. But do not dismiss independent consultants—many of whom have a broad range of experience across decades, companies, and industries. I’ve been doing this type of work for more than 30 years across a dozen industries and dozens of organizations. This breadth of perspective can bring a great deal of value to your organization and its culture improvement program.

Finally, while recognizing the value of seasoned professionals, don’t exclude novices and apprentices. When we talk about culture, there is nuance around organizational dynamics, leadership behavior, and team culture. Using an experienced consultant will more than likely add greater value than someone fresh out of college. However, don’t dismiss the latter—they can bring contemporary and unique perspectives. For example, I’ve done some of my best culture consulting work with a colleague who is 26 years my junior. We worked well together to bring the absolute best solutions to our clients.

Call to action

Consider your organization’s performance. Is it where you want it to be? Are sales performance statistics meeting your goals? Is your customer support team delivering the best to your end-user clients? Is your supply chain able to deliver on time, every time? What are people outside your company saying about you? These are some things to consider.

Also, what’s your attrition rate? Is your unfavorable attrition increasing or decreasing? What is that telling you? I had a client several years ago who had a significantly high unfavorable attrition rate. They saw the writing on the wall and brought me in to help them fix that. We went from 16% to 2% unfavorable attrition in two years.

What are you hearing from your people? All the statistics aside, this could be the real wake up call. Take time to go out and talk with your frontline employees about what’s going on in the organization, their concerns and issues, and what they think real solutions may look like. This will tell you volumes about what you can do to improve your culture.

 

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