Positively impacting society on a global scale through culture awareness, education and action.

During a recent keynote, Jeb Dasteel, Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer at Oracle Corporation, said something that gave me pause. “Don’t try to change the culture,” Dasteel urged the hundreds of change agents gathered in a hotel conference room. “Exploit it.”

Dasteel went on to explain that, while building a customer experience strategy inside Oracle — a company that had historically valued its intellectual property more than its customers, he chose to leverage the prevailing engineering mindset instead of trying to change the organizational culture, as so many of us might be tempted to do. “I couldn’t change the culture if I wanted to,” he said.

I was reading some amazing statistics from a Right Management report on talent management that covered global trends, challenges, and priorities. Much has been written about the reduced investment in talent during challenging financial times and the recent re-emergence of interest in effective talent management practices. Unfortunately the culture that currently exists in many organizations will be the single greatest impediment to sustainable talent strategies.

I wrote about the four reasons culture-shaping efforts fail in my previous post (Organizational culture has reached a tipping point, yet many culture change initiatives fail for four key reasons). But what makes them succeed? What makes some culture-change efforts successful where others become simply another ‘flavor of the week’ training session that never translates into real change? This is a subject of great debate and many theories exist.

Leaders often struggle with managing approaches to improve engagement and ownership as part of a process that directly impacts results.  Company meetings, one-off engagement activities, and other approaches might work but there is a technique you should build into the fabric of your organization. It’s a relatively simple but powerful process that supports improved engagement, ownership, accountability, and results but some discipline and consistency are required.

At the time you announce the new strategy, reorganization, acquisition, or any significant change into your organization the conversations are likely already underway everywhere in your organization. It is human nature, and brain science has verified, we want to eliminate uncertainty in our lives; therefore, we talk to each other about what is happening around us. If we are not talking, then you can be certain that we are thinking about what is going on around us and not focused on the task at hand resulting in less than normal productivity.  Stated another way, the amount of alignment and clarity in your organization is decreasing.

CEOs continue to publicly proclaim their efforts to manage significant and meaningful culture change. Some miss the mark and show their lack of understanding this critical topic. Others, like Satya Nadella of Microsoft, share a much clearer vision and appear like they truly “get it.”  What separates the visionary and capable culture champions from the vast majority of leaders that don’t understand the culture fundamentals?

My fascination with culture began more than 40 years ago when another young industrial engineer named Jim Delaney and I started a process improvement consulting firm not long after graduating from UCLA. I quickly discovered that it was easier to decide on change than to get people to change. I observed that companies, like people, had personalities, and while some were healthy, most were like dysfunctional families. They had trust issues, turf issues and resistance to change. The difference between working with Sam Walton on the supply chain at Walmart and working with Woolworths was like night and day. It was clear one company would succeed and the other would fail because of the mindset and habits of the firms.

Years ago, NASA ran a series of experiments on the best way to make decisions. They used a series of survival scenarios, and asked individuals in a large group to solve the challenge and rate themselves. Then they asked small groups to solve the problems and rate their performance. About 98% of the time, the groups received better scores than the individuals.

New information about the inadequacies of leadership at the U.S. Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers continues to be revealed daily. The headlines astound, “Bad VA care may have killed more than 1,000 veterans, senator’s report says.” In summary, for years the wait times reported by many medical centers in the management system for measuring effectiveness were simply false. As a result, veterans have not been served well and most everyone is outraged.

The GM ignition switch recall tragedy led to at least 13 deaths and was the result of 11 years of failure on many levels.  It’s a live case study on a sad culture crisis we all can and must learn from since culture is the most powerful force in organizations.  Rarely do we have a chance to pull back the covers and see a culture with some serious dysfunction from an organization that still accomplishes amazing work on a global scale in spite of it all.

I wrote a popular TLNT.com article about how 96% of respondents from a Strategy& / Katzenbach Center survey on culture and change management highlighted that culture change was needed in their organization in some form.  I criticized some of the over-simplified recommendations that accompanied the survey release but The Katzenbach Center came through with their recent high quality article and related video on 10 Principles for Leading Change Management.

All leaders need to understand these principles and it doesn’t matter if they are in a big corporation like General Motors or a small business on Main Street.

Practice is about applying an idea, belief or method rather than the theories related to it. Practice is also about repeatedly performing an activity to become skilled in it.

The value and benefit of practice is taken for granted for performers at the highest level in fields such as sport, music, and art. Can you imagine teams like the New York Yankees in baseball, Toronto Maple Leafs in ice hockey, Dallas Cowboys in American Football, Manchester United in soccer just turning up on match day? In the arts, would the cast of Cirque du Soleil or the dancers of the Bolshoi Ballet just turn up on the day of the performance? Even the Rolling Stones practice.

Is happiness a driver of business results? How do you go about improving happiness in an organization? We discussed these and other subjects as part of a CultureUniversity.com interview with Jenn Lim, CEO of Delivering Happiness. She started Delivering Happiness with Tony Hsieh of Zappos after he wrote the best-selling book by the same name and they are building a community with the greater goal of nudging the world towards passion, purpose, and a happier place.

Most of us experience fear in some form in the workplace nearly every day.  Some is completely natural due to uncertainty about raising a problem, idea or opinion. In other cases, fear leads to tragic consequences as employees resist speaking up or “acting on what they know.” Fear is the ultimate culture killer and was the subject of a top 50 post on TLNT last year titled The 8 Clear Signs of a Workplace Culture of Fear.  So how do you overcome fear and take action that will benefit your organization?