QUESTION: What are the two (or three or five or seven) most important things organization leaders can do to effectively create and manage culture change?
ANSWER:1. The most important thing senior leaders must do is lead from the front. The CEO, with the board of directors’ support, must formally announce the strategy for excellence to all levels and why culture change will be critical to the company’s ability to sustain long-term.
If the top leaders don’t believe that and/or aren’t prepared to relentlessly lead that way for the rest of their careers, then they shouldn’t deceive their employees by pretending to believe. It’s a travesty how many U.S. companies have started a journey of continuous improvement and only 2%-3% of those are still on the journey after 10 years.
No wonder so many workforces are cynical when the next bold leader comes along and says, “Let’s do lean.” (Hourly worker: “Oh great. Here we go again with another flavor of the month. I can probably outlast this phony just like I did the last two.”)
One of the leading reasons these kinds of initiatives fail is that senior leaders announce change and then don’t change anything about themselves and how they think and how they lead.
All leaders are in a fish-bowl with everyone in the organization looking up at them. If employees see definite behavior changes, e.g. no more “death by 1,000 initiatives”; no more “do as I say not as I do”; and more accountability for the new agenda, i.e. malcontents start disappearing; persistence to eliminate root cause instead of apply band aids to the business’ problems, the priority for excellence never changes, etc. then the company has a chance to really change and get a lot better.
Ultimately, these kinds of changes will unleash the brainpower of the masses and the culture change that is necessary will begin to gain momentum. (See Ken Blanchard’s book, Leading at a Higher Level, Chapter 10, for more insight on this topic and his list of the 15 leading reasons why change initiatives fail.)
2. All leaders must constantly communicate the vision for excellence, the process for getting there and the sense of urgency necessary by all.
Absent a compelling business case for change, support will be episodic. It has to be real and each person must see the need for change and understand their role in it.
Leadership must understand that every single communication by any medium is an opportunity to reinforce this consistent message over and over and over again. The board of directors’ support is intended to insure the longevity of the commitment regardless of whoever succeeds the current CEO in the future.
It’s not a flavor of the month. It’s the new way the company will be run. Forever. No excuses!