An Opportunity at Hand, Seize the Day: The Long View

Culture change can be a massive undertaking yet a hugely rewarding endeavor for all involved. We therefore encourage Senior leaders to intentionally and strategically measure and redirect their organization’s culture. Positive change won’t happen overnight but can take shape slowly and surely.

Part Three of a Three-Part Series

The following case studies and culture profiles focus on real organizations whose leaders tackled culture change with our guidance.


Auto Supply Chain Manufacturing Plant

Our first case is that of a manufacturing client executing a strategic imperative to create a culture that supports the production of high-quality products and provides a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining employees. 

auto supply 2010     auto_supply_2012 
 Time 1      Time 2


The Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) and Organizational Effectiveness Inventory® (OEI®) were used to conduct the initial cultural assessment.1, 2 The OCI revealed an overly aggressive culture where employees were expected to point out flaws, stay detached and objective, and outperform peers. Data from the OEI were used to prioritize weaknesses to be addressed—which included employees’ understanding of the organization’s mission and goals, a lack of job variety and autonomy, and hiring, training, and employee involvement processes.

The entire leadership team completed development programs that included feedback from the Life Styles Inventory™ (LSI) to shift behaviors and modules for improving leadership skills. Members of the team were provided with immediate opportunities to implement their behavior change plans and apply their new skills—as they collaborated in activities to improve human resource processes and engaged employees in innovative efforts to increase operational performance.3

Their success in developing themselves, initiating changes, and improving the culture is clearly reflected in the OCI profiles shown above. Over a two-year period, the Aggressive/Defensive norms that dominated the culture were effectively suppressed as more Constructive norms took hold. Specifically, this client increased quality and timeliness, achieving the customer’s contracted quality and production expectations. They also decreased turnover by 45% and qualitatively experienced increased ease of hiring new employees.

High Reliability Organization

Another example of successful culture change is provided by a high reliability organization that was performing at the lowest decile when compared to its peer organizations around the world. The new Chief Executive Officer decided to sponsor a performance improvement and culture change initiative. The first step was to conduct a culture assessment using the OCI. This allowed members of the organization to see what behaviors were expected at the time and to compare the then-current culture to an industry ideal. The culture survey revealed that the operating culture was fear-based and Passive/Defensive, creating a setting in which employees were reluctant to challenge the status-quo and take initiative to improve performance.

The entire leadership team participated in immersive workshops to help them align behaviors with the ideal and build their management skills. The leaders implemented personal action plans that included participation in organization-wide process improvement efforts and leading employee engagement activities for improving team and department performance. As shown in the profiles below, they greatly strengthened Constructive norms and reduced implicit and explicit expectations for Passive/Defensive behaviors. While Oppositional norms remained dominant, the stronger expectations for Self-Actualization and Humanistic behaviors tempered their impact and led to more effective problem solving around reliability and performance.

high reliability 2010     high reliability 2013 
 Time 1      Time 2


Lowest Performing Department transformation to Best Performing Department

This example focuses on the worst performing department of the above client organization at the onset of the performance improvement and culture change initiative. This department was fraught with employee management issues, low productivity, and human errors. The unit’s 2010 culture profile was very consistent with that of the larger organization and its 2013 profile showed similar improvements. Over the course of the three years, the department transformed into the top performing unit with highly engaged employees who collaborated with management to contribute thought leadership and innovation for the entire industry. Productivity gains allowed the organization to significantly reduce the size and expense of its supplemental contract workforce.

lowest performing t1     lowest performing t2 
 Time 1      Time 2


Northeast US Utility

The newly appointed President came onboard when the entire industry faced significant challenges from aging infrastructure, climate change, technology transformation, and growing customer demands. Further, the President inherited an organization with third quartile performance compared to its industry peers. Shortly after coming to the organization, he decided to pursue a strategic effort to improve its performance and transform its culture. Using the OCI, it was determined that the organization had a strong and deeply embedded Aggressive/ and Passive/Defensive culture.

Initially, the President sponsored immersive leadership development programs to unfreeze the senior leadership team from the past culture and practices and put them on a path of change. The path included shifting their behaviors and leading efforts to improve performance. The initiative soon expanded and cascaded to all management and frontline employees. The leaders and employees immediately applied new skills and behavior change action plans to organization-wide process improvement and department and team development efforts. The organization utilized the LSI to help all employees align their behavior with the desired culture and Management/Impact® feedback to assist leaders in shifting their management styles and approaches and, in turn, supporting employees in developing more Constructive thinking and behavioral styles.4

The Utility has achieved and sustained top quartile and, in many aspects, top decile performance relative to its peers. An excellent and very relevant article on the system is provided here.5 They achieved a 13% year-over-year increase in net income, 18% increase in customer satisfaction, a 30% increase in reliability, and a 40% improvement in Operations & Maintenance (O & M) efficiency while maintaining lower than average customer rates. The Utility has received numerous performance, innovation, and customer service awards over the past few years.

ne utility 2010     ne utility 2015 
 Time 1      Time 2


Setting out to change your culture often involves taking the long view and we can help your leadership team gain clarity on and execute the key steps for this important journey. You are welcome to contact us through Human Synergistics; we are long-term accredited practitioners in their suite of assessments. Or contact us directly at Ephektiv.



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

2 Cooke, R. A. (1995). Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®. Arlington Heights, IL: Human Synergistics/Center for Applied Research.

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

4 Szumal, J. L. & Cooke, R. A. (2008). Management/Impact®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics International.

5 Chwalowski, M. Ph.D. (2006). Condemned to the Fourth Quartile?

About the Author

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Madeline Marquardt

Madeline Marquardt, President of Ephektiv, Inc., is a business consultant, trainer, and entrepreneur. For over thirty years, Madeline has focused on assisting national and international clients to manage systemic change, clarify strategic direction, complete structural redesign, transform culture, develop executives and leaders, improve inclusive diversity, and strengthen employee engagement. She has worked collaboratively with nuclear power industry leaders to define an optimal culture for nuclear power plants and has served on various nuclear safety culture oversight boards. She has helped leaders in the U.S., Canada, and Europe develop and implement long-term initiatives to transform performance through culture change, leadership development, and employee engagement.