Patience is . . .

mom and dad

My mother was a classy and wise woman and in many ways, thoroughly modern.  Not only was she a beauty queen in college, a high school music and English teacher, an accomplished pianist and organist, leader of the church choir, loved poetry (a descendant of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow), but also the mother of four boys and a girl.  Any one alone is a great achievement, especially in the 1930’s and 40’s. It is a miracle she kept her sanity and sense of humour (with four rambunctious boys  to raise).  But her real gift were “pearls of wisdom” to help us navigate life’s ups and downs.

And one of her favourite “pearls of wisdom” to us boys was:

Patience is a virtue.

Young boys live fully in the moment and having to wait for things, like Christmas or the opening day of fishing or hunting season, was excruciatingly painful. We wanted it NOW!

Fast forward to 2014. You and I live in a world where speed is an asset and NOW is the only time that exists. Texts are instant and seem to demand instant replies. News from around the world flashes across pc screen and mobile phone alerts as it happens.  And success in the highly competitive global marketplace is about being their first. Today’s mantra seems to be something like:

Don’t wait for things to happen, make them happen.

patience

The Good News and Bad News about Patience:

But as I see it, patience has its place today more than ever before, and yet there are also times when patience is definitely not a virtue.  Let me explain.

Many good business strategies don’t get traction because management doesn’t wait long enough for the plan to develop and begin to get traction.  At the first sign of negative results or a missed target, they convene a meeting to revise the plan.  Strategic plans take time for people to understand, to replace old business processes with new ones, for customers and suppliers to get on board.  Strategies are not overnight tactical manoeuvres.

A strategy only works if you stick with it

On the other hand, there are times when patience is definitely not a virtue, but is actually harmful to your company.  Here I am talking about corporate culture. We all know that a culture aligned with the strategy and that supports and grows people acts as a catalyst for achieving business success. And culture is made up of repeatable, everyday behaviours about how people deal with issues, treat each other and treat customers and suppliers.

So imagine the real life example of a VP overhearing a conversation among managers that goes something like this: “I can’t believe those idiots in purchasing. They screwed up my order again, and it’s not the first time and the customer is yelling at me. The next time they want support from my department they can forget it!”

Heard that one before, or something similar? Definitely not the type of blaming, unaccountable culture that makes for success.

Now come the choice, patience on the part of the VP, don’t get involved, mention it to their supervisor whose job it is to manage that area? Or act immediately, interrupt and use the opportunity as a “coachable moment” to talk about culture, accountability, blaming, and working together to fix the problem?

If you don’t get involved, you get the culture you ignore!

Patience, like many leadership skills is situational.  And leaders are paid to make choices!  Choose wisely.

Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.  ~Napoleon Hill

Thanks for joining the conversation.

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: 
john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

Posted in corporate culture, John R Childress, leadership, Life Skills, Organization Behavior, parenting, strategy execution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Going Global? Three Keys to Success

go west Go West, young man. Go West and grow up with the country.  ~Horace Greeley

The sage advice of 19th Century journalist and politician Horace Greeley about seeking out new territory and opportunities for growth has become a popular phrase and driving vision for many young individuals and for many businesses in today’s global marketplace.

globalizationThe opportunity for a successful business to expand globally has never been easier and with the rapid development of a number of potentially huge emerging consumer and B2B markets, established businesses everywhere are making plans to pursue more international business. And it’s not just the Western companies, but many Asian corporations are expanding globally in the search for newer markets and growth.

The Grass is Greener, But Watch The Landmines!

While the markets are there and many companies have mountains of cash available to fund global expansion, success is not easy or straight forward.  Even some of the best known and best run companies have failed miserably in their international growth pursuits.  WalMart’s dismal failures in South Korea, Germany and Japan, despite millions invested is both expensive and humiliating at the same time. Mattel’s failure to introduce its Barbie line of dolls and toys into China was fraught with marketing and cultural barriers. On the other hand, while Home Depot failed in China, IKEA is experiencing explosive growth.

The bottom line?

Globalization is not plug and play!

There are many invisible forces that can spell success or failure.  Here are my top three:

1.  Understand National Cultural Differences:

Ignore national cultures at your peril. While Home Depot and IKEA both cater to do-it-yourself lifestyles and since the middle class is a huge potential market in China, both saw growth and riches, and took their mega-store strategy into China.  But middle class Chinese mostly live in apartments, without garages or places to store tools, paints, etc., but they do desire the Western lifestyle.  Thus Home Depot failed. But IKEA, pushing self-assemble and not DYI, made it easy for customers to purchase western home decor, without the DYI hassle.

WalMart failed in Germany partly due to the German national culture clashing with the walmart employee meetingAmerican culture. German employees resisted the morning team exercises while chanting WALMART! WALMART! WALMART!  American managers didn’t really listen to employee suggestions. And the Green-conscious German customers resented the excessive use of plastic bags and packaging.

2.  Tap Into Aspirations:

Many products sell well not just becasue of their functionality, but becasue of the lifestyle or social aspirations customers attach to them. Apple sells phenomenally well around the world, even with a much higher price tag, because it fulfils the buyers aspirations to “be cool” and part of the “with-it crowd”.  The cache and lifestyle prestige of Harley Davidson motorcycles and 1st Growth Bordeaux wines are another good example of international success.

3.  Improve Lives and Wellbeing: Be a Good Corporate Citizen

My favourite ingredient for success in international markets is to pursue a noble purpose, along with profits.  And one of the best gifts a company can make in a foreign market is to seek to improve the lives and wellbeing of its employees and customers.

Here is my favourite example, in the words of David Schoch (a former client), now President of Ford Asia Pacific and a veteran Ford CFO on many continents:

 In 1925, Henry Ford took out the attached ad in the Saturday Evening Post. It was not your ordinary automotive ad. It was an ad about Henry’s vision of opening the highways to all mankind – he was selling a dream.

Henry understood how mobility could contribute to the economic value of a society and thus contributing to a Better World. In the last sentence – “The Ford Motor Company views its situation today less with pride in great achievement than with the sincere and sober realization of new and larger opportunities for service to mankind” – in other words, contributing to a Better World.

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Throughout my 36 year career with Ford, I have been continuously inspired by Ford’s Better World initiatives. It is not just about making great, high-quality products for our customers, making a sustainable profit, etc., but it is about giving back to our communities where we work and live.

It was this aspiration that motivated us in 1999 in South Africa at SAMCOR (South African Motor Corporation – partially owned by Ford) to do something radical and pro-active against the HIV Aids pandemic.

There was little understanding or education on what HIV Aids was? How it spreads? And what precautions could be taken to protect against being infected?

Nobody wanted to talk about it in open forums – not even the SA government. We knew that our workers were dying of HIV Aids. We also knew that we could not solve South Africa’s HIV Aids problems, but we could do something to help our own workforce.

So we developed a plan to educate our entire workforce and the community about HIV Aids (in 1999).

Initially, there was a lot of push back on the plan – from both the salaried and the hourly workers. We persisted, however, because we knew it was the right thing to do for our employees, their families and our business.

We set up education classes for the entire workforce; offered free and anonymous HIV Aids testing; offered free condoms throughout the site so our employees could protect themselves; we started a HIV Aids center on site at Silverton where the community could come and learn more about the pandemic and prevention.

Over the years, this program has grown and has taken on a life of its own. We have been able to successfully reach out to more communities with training, etc. When I was back in South Africa about 2 years ago, it was so gratifying to visit the center and learn more about all of the great work they are doing.

Engrained in Ford’s culture is the spirit and aspiration to contribute to a Better World.

Want to succeed in going global? Make a positive difference in the people and the communities you enter. Be a good citizen. It makes dollars and sense!

Thanks for joining the conversation.

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: 
john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

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Peer Leadership, Courage and Culture Change

Sales_Cartoon_Big_Initiative

The best training program in the world is absolutely worthless without the will to execute it properly, consistently, and with intensity.  ~John Romaniello

Let’s face it, corporate America has been trained, retrained, and then trained again (even trained out!) on leadership and culture change.  Every consultant on earth (and there are mega-thousands) has a leadership development or culture change training, speech, book, Keynote talk, workshop, video or blog. By now, there isn’t one senior or mid-level executive who has not been to at least three leadership or culture change courses or speeches. They can recite the quotes, describe the leadership and change models, and even repeat some of the speaker stories and examples.

I don’t know about you, but if I see another new leadership or change workshop brochure or webinar I just may emigrate to the moon!

Not only is the content pretty much the same (but with different spins, like leadership the Army way, or the Navy Seal way, or the Olympic way, or the NFL way, or from the world’s best CEOs, Leadership Lessons from Genghis Khan, Penguins and Icebergs, etc.).  The models tend to be the same, the examples the same, even some of the same jokes.

Yet more than ever businesses, sports, the military and especially politics cries out for leadership and all are frustrated by the slow pace of culture change, if it changes at all.

Here’s the rub: We all know WHAT to do, and even HOW to do it, but we fail to ACT.  It’s not lack of knowledge, it’s lack of the COURAGE to ACT!

It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.  ~J. K. Rowling

storming gateAnd I am not talking about leading a revolution or storming the board room. The kind of courageous action I am pointing to is to be the first to speak up in support of new improvements, be the first to adopt new ways of working, be the first to step in when colleagues are bullying or harassing others. The first to say and do the right things, the little things that will signal a new set of behaviours. Real change starts with a small number of people who have the courage to act and begin to display new behaviours. Their changes often influence others to follow suit.

Our research and business experience over the past 30 years has found that change, and particularly culture change, does not take place through top-down training or communication programs, or the issuance of new “get tough” or “Zero Tolerance” policies. And certainly not through new regulations.  These are important ingredients and a part of the solution, but not sufficient to reshape behaviour.

Reshaping Culture:

So if culture change is really about behaviour change, what is the most effective way to reshape behaviour?

When new behaviours, ways of thinking and acting are introduced, role modelled and reinforced by respected peers, informal leaders and key influencers,  others in the group (or those who wanna-be) tend to follow suit. It’s human nature, pure and simple.  How else do you explain the quick uptake of fashion trends, facial hair in American baseball, or arm tattoos? It’s not a new law, it’s not a regulation, it’s not mandated by policy. It’s a new behaviour displayed by informal and respected key influencers that becomes contagious, even viral, for those in the group and those who wanna-be.

We human beings are social animals and peer acceptance (fitting in with a group) has a powerful influence on behaviour.  Street gangs are an extreme form of peer pressure and fitting in with the group. In essence, a street gang is a subculture of the youth in an area with a specific set of behaviours that they believe define who they are. These behaviours are almost religiously adhered to.

And there are strong subcultures inside of nearly every company. A company subculture is a group of people, with an informal leader or strong influencer, who tend to behave and think the same way. And surprise! Corporate culture is really a collection of these various subcultures.

The fact is, employees trust their peers and key influencers far more than they trust senior management, especially during times of change!

And herein lies the major lever for courageous action and change.

The concept is simple. To create a sustainable change, locate the informal and respected leaders inside your organization; those who have an inordinate amount of social and behavioural influence on others that far out weighs their position on the organization chart. Beware, many of these key influencers are not on HR’s list of upcoming and promotable. It’s the employees who decide who the key influencers are, not HR.

Then recruit them to become the change champions. As they adopt, display and talk about new behaviours (and new ways of working) this influence will spread.  Combine that with support from senior management in terms of revised policies and internal business processes that promote and reinforce these new behaviours, plus new behaviours role modelled by leadership and management, and you have a perfect Pull – Push – Sustain system for culture change.

The turnaround of the dirty and strike-ridden Halewood Ford Escort assembly plant in England into a modern Jaguar plant with showcase quality and productivity was all about getting the respected Union leaders and key hourly influencers engaged as the leaders of the Culture Change Workshops for all employees, as well are replacing those managers and executives who ruled with fear and negativity, plus instituting new policies and work procedures that fostered respect and trust.  Pull – Push – Sustain.

But not everyone has the courage to lead change, either executives or the informal leaders, and at the end of the day, the courage to start is the crucial first step.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.  ~Lao Tzu

Thanks for joining the conversation.

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: 
john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

 

Posted in corporate culture, Human Psychology, leadership, Organization Behavior, strategy execution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Culture Audits: We Have Been Asking the Wrong Question

stampede

Once the herd starts moving in one direction, it’s very hard to turn it, even slightly.  ~Dan Rather (journalist and former CBS News Anchor)

I grew up at the dawn of the television era and watched intently as Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and other professional journalists commented on the news of the world. I’ve always liked this quote by Dan Rather as it reminds me that once a belief gets started about something, it’s hard for new facts to change that opinion.

The Herd of Culture Audits

For the past several decades in the business literature and academic journals there has been a plethora of writing, talking and consulting around “corporate culture audits”.  While there is no common agreed upon definition of corporate culture by academics and professionals, there are an amazing good number of culture audits on the market.  In fact, by my last count there are over 70 different culture assessment tools (surveys, audits, etc.) available (see LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture)

What is fascinating to me is that while they each measure slightly different aspects of what they call corporate culture, the majority measure them in exactly the same way.  They use a questionnaire given to various levels within the organisation and ask the individuals to score each question, usually on a numerical scale from “least like the culture” to “most like the culture”.  Then they aggregate all the scores, take an average and bingo! A culture profile is developed which supposedly describes the overall corporate culture.

Are we asking the wrong question?

But what if there isn’t one overall culture, but actually numerous subcultures (some strong and others weaker) in a company?  Blending all these subcultures into an overall average corporate culture profile could be missing a lot of valuable information to help understand how culture and performance are related and also understand the levers required to reshape culture.

After over 30 years studying corporate culture in numerous industries (nuclear power, retail, transportation, manufacturing, defence electronics and FMCG), I am convinced that there is no such thing as an overall corporate culture but instead an organisation is comprised of numerous subcultures. In rare cases the subcultures are aligned and in synch with the overall goals and values espoused by leadership.  In most cases, there is misalignment and senior management wonders why execution is so difficult.

subcultures

The Herd Keeps Moving On  

In this modern era of consumer niche identification and targeted marketing that has proven so effective from digital retailers to presidential campaigns, why do business leaders continue to use massive, one-message-fits-all, top down culture change communications and workshops in an attempt to change culture? First of all, it doesn’t work well (see LEVERAGE: The CEOs Guide to Corporate Culture) and secondly, it totally overlooks the fact that organisations are really a collection of subcultures with their own beliefs, interests and leaders.

 There is no one overall corporate culture!

The real leverage to reshaping culture is to identify and understand the strong subcultures that exist within the company and then recruit the “informal leaders” and key influencers within those subcultures as your change agents.  The real fact is, employees trust their peers and the informal leaders for information and guidance far more than they trust management!

We have been asking the wrong question: It’s not “what is our corporate culture?”, but instead “where is our corporate culture?”

We now have the technology, through a special Social Network Analysis algorithm and organisational framework, to map the various subcultures and pinpoint not only where they are inside the organisation, but also pinpoint which individuals are the key cultural influencers.

This pioneering work, conducted under the direction of Dr. Leandro Hererro (author of two groundbreaking books: Viral Change and Homo Imitans) and with the assistance of a group of Eastern European software geniuses, is beginning to give us the vital insights required to truly understand and effectively reshape corporate cultures.

In future blogs I will talk more about the importance of subcultures, informal leaders, Social Network Analysis and culture change.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result!  (popularly attributed to Einstein but probably first penned by author and feminist Rita Mae Brown in her book, Sudden Death)

Thanks for joining the conversation!

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: 
john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leadership in Three Time Zones . . .

tm19

My daughter was co-leader of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain last season and over the past two years has been fortunate enough to play under the skilled baton homepage-news-imageof numerous excellent classical music conductors, including Vasily Petrenko (pictured), Simone YoungPaul Daniel, François-Xavier Roth and Edward Gardner (pictured).

The  National Youth Orchestra is made up of 165 young people aged 13-19 and each year they have three courses, Winter, Spring and Summer, of 10 days each followed by three successive concerts in major venues around the UK, including the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in London.

While the kids learn tons about how an orchestra works and how all the various Conductor Vasily Petrenkoinstruments and parts fit together, they also get to see very different styles of conducting and orchestra leadership.  All are experienced and professional conductors, but their styles are very different, yet each is effective at merging 165 individuals into a collective, high performance orchestra.

We were having dinner last evening and my daughter was talking about the craft of conducting.  She is an aspiring young conductor so watches every conductor intently for style, technique and musical expression. Stephanie had a very interesting insight about the mental world of a conductor.  Basically, the conductor has to be simultaneously in three different time zones.

She explained is like this:  The conductor has to live in the Future, that is, knowing the score so well that he/she knows what is coming up next, what transitions are required, whether the mood or tempo is about to change and thus can get ready to lead the orchestra properly when the time arrives.  In essence, living in the future.

At the same time, a conductor must live in the past.  Understand what just happened, edespecially if there was a mistake by one of the sections coming in late or a wrong chord or note was played in a solo.  By understanding what just happened, the conductor can work to make corrections and put the orchestra back on track.

And yet, the conductor must also live in the present, being “at one” with each note, phrase and the overall theme and “picture” of the piece as is being played, in order to give the proper cues to the sections and deliver a unified interpretation.

A multi-dimensional time zone juggling act if I ever heard of one.bigstockphoto_business_man_juggling_his_time_1326922

Later on in the evening after everyone was in bed, I began to think about leaders and the craft of leadership.  It dawned on me that a successful business leader, like a professional classical music conductor, has to live simultaneously in those same three time zones.

The future is about seeing over the horizon and anticipating changes in markets or technologies that might throw the company off course. A big part of being successful as a CEO or business leader is the ability to “bring the future forward”, to see things others don’t see that have yet to materialize and getting the company prepared, in advance.  In this category falls such important activities as executive development, capability building, investments in R&D, listening to the voice of the customer, tracking global and industry trends, hiring now for future needs, seeking out acquisitions.

Living in the past is about being able to honestly assess the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and constantly using the 5 Whys to understand root cause. To not be limited or burdened by the past, but to learn from it and not to repeat the same mistakes over and over.  Equally important is to use the past to celebrate and recognize people and achievements.  It is also important to use the past, especially stories from the past, to reinforce and sustain the company values and culture.

And of course, a successful leader must live fully in the present at the same time.  It is only in the present that real change takes place, that coaching is effective.  Relationships can only be built in the present.  A leader who lives too much in the past or the future misses tons of opportunities to guide and influence people and the organization in the Here and Now.

So, you want to improve your leadership?  Adjust your internal time zones!

Thanks for joining the conversation!

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: 
john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

Posted in Classical Music, consulting, corporate culture, John R Childress, leadership, Organization Behavior, strategy execution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Few More Corporate Culture Myths

myth-busted

This is the third (and final) posting on the myths of corporate culture.  You might want to review the first and second posting as well.  These myths are taken from a chapter in my new book – LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, available in paperback and eBook format from Amazon.

branson

Myth 9:  A Charismatic CEO is necessary to build a high-performance culture

The myth of a cult-like or high-performance culture being the result of a charismatic CEO or founder has been amply fuelled in the press and even certain academic circles on the shoulders of such CEOs as Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Tony Hsieh, Richard Branson, Lee Iacocca, Oprah Winfrey.  There are even a dozen business books about Charismatic Leadership.

The leader with special “charisma” has a great deal of personal “power” and influence, especially among those in the inner circle, who then spread the message.  But not all charismatic leaders build high-performance cultures.  Jamie Diamon has considerable power and charisma, yet the culture within JP Morgan Chase is not considered high-performance, but trends more towards dysfunctional or even toxic in some subcultures of the bank.  Richard Fuld was charismatic and forceful, and turned Lehman Brothers into a highly toxic organization that eventually imploded.

Force of character and charisma among founders sets in place strong behaviours and approaches to business that often have great staying power, especially if the founder stays on for a long time. A good example is the Virgin empire of Richard Branson, whose personal beliefs about being different and offering a fun and positive customer experience is mirrored in his many company brands.

However, I don’t believe anyone thought of Sam Walton as charismatic, at least not in the extroverted manner of behaviour.  But he was highly focused and strong in his beliefs about how a good business should be run and how people should be treated.  Perhaps more than charisma, we should be looking at the relationship between the leader’s commitment to beliefs about how to treat employees and customers and the development of a high-performance culture.

Myth 10:  Culture can be managed like any other complex business program or process

managing-for-dummies-3rd-edition-2010-1-638

 Culture can and should be managed, and more than managed, led by a senior team dedicated to living, role modelling and promoting the elements of the corporate culture.

But managing culture takes more than just good project management skills and much more finesse, since milestones and metrics are not nearly as concrete and measurable for culture as they are for a business program. In the case of culture, leadership is required far more than management skills, and not just from the leadership team.  Every employee needs to feel accountable for promoting the culture, modeling the behaviors, and coaching others who “forget” or need some reminding.  Culture is the “mega-program” and everyone is a “project lead”.

Myth 11:  A company serious about its culture needs a CCO (Chief Culture Officer)

Wrong!  One of the key lessons learned from why most strategies fail in execution is the fact that most functions or departments tends to stick to its own work and focus on their own goals and objectives. They live and work in silos.  Culture, like strategy, is a horizontal value stream, connecting every single department or function and every single employee no matter at what level.  If anyone is the CCO its the Chief Executive who has the ultimate responsibility for the strength and alignment of the culture to the strategy, but it’s better to create an entire army of CCO’s.

Myth 12:  Culture is fundamentally about Individual Values and Beliefs

Companies don’t have values, people have values, and no two people have the same values and therefore there will always be misalignment between people’s values and the organization.  So to say that culture is about values is actually saying that culture is about people.  Okay, but so what?

I think what is really important here is to understand that we can’t easily, if ever, change human values, but behaviors in the workplace can be modified or realigned to produce better outcomes.  New hires coming into an organization don’t change their basic values, but they quickly tend to shift their behavior to fit in with the subculture and as a result of strong peer and boss pressure. Culture is about the visible and habitual behaviors used to deal with each other, customers and business issues.

 Myth 13:  Culture is the biggest reason for resistance to change and failed business  initiatives or mergers

Culture is indeed a factor in resistance to change, even in the most cult-like cultures, because resistance to change seems to be hard-wired into the human DNA for survival reasons.  The classic response of “flight or fight” is connected to our human resistance to change. And the organisation is a collection of people, so resistance to change is to be expected, no matter how sound the change logic.  And I think this is the real important point, all change is first looked at with resistance, period. “Let’s go down to the bank, they are giving away free $100 bills! . . . Oh, I don’t know, it’s not break time yet!” (Okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get the point).

Most resistance to change is not the culture, or the change itself, but how it is presented! Few managers and executives stop to consider how to minimize the human resistance to change when introducing something different.  It seems as if they actually believe that because the boss said it, people will automatically fall in line and change. At best they get “malicious obedience” with zero commitment or creativity.

Myth 14:  Culture Change takes 3-5 years

speed of change

In some cases, particularly with the traditional top-down or sheep-dip approaches, culture change can and does take years, if ever. And at times, a slow but steady change is perfect for the business situation required.  At other times, speed is the requirement.

In that case, new leadership, some clear non-negotiable behaviors (with consequences), serious focus on better training for middle managers and supervisors, and rewards and incentives tied to the new culture, can dramatically accelerate the process.  The whole point about culture change is, it takes a new habit to replace an old habit, and new behaviors take time to introduce and require constant reinforcement to become habits.

Myth 15:  Culture can be changed

What do you think?

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: 
john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

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Develop Character First, Leadership Will Follow . . .

Character_Building

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.  ~Helen Keller

In the middle of the second World War, Britain was facing a shortage of young officers. The task of developing young military leaders fell to Lord Rowallan, a Lt. Col. who was then Commandant of the Highland Fieldcraft Training Centre (HFTC) in 1943/44. The HFTC was set up by the Adjutant General in 1943 for the purpose of developing leadership qualities in servicemen who had been graded “NY” (Not Yet) by the War Office Selection Boards (WOSBs) looking for potential officers.

rowallanLord Rowallan had a strong belief that if you first develop character, military leadership skills would follow. So he put together a 10 week “Outward Bound” type of training in the Scottish Highlands. The training at the HFTC was highly successful in developing character and leadership qualities in the cadets, and the pass rate at the end of each 10-week course in the Scottish Highlands was about 70%.

The Rowallan Company became the successor to the HFTC. The Rowallan Company was set up in 1977 in similar circumstances to address the high failure rate (70%) of officer cadets on the Regular passammoCommissions Board (RCB). The 11-week course was based on the training developed at the HFTC in 1943/44 by Lord Rowallan, who was consulted about the establishment of the Company. Since 1977, 53 courses were completed and of the 2,900 cadets who started the courses, 65% were successful. Of the successful Rowallan cadets, 92% were successful on the subsequent Commissioning Course and many of these reached high ranks in the service. A successful innovation was to admit women officer cadets to the Rowallan Company courses as well as men.

Sadly the Rowallan Company was disbanded for financial reasons in 2002 but has been resurrected in a new course taught at Sandhurst called the Development Course.

What I find fascinating about this program is that it was a 10 week ‘non-military’ course designed to develop character, not military skills. Each participant took a turn at being the leader of one or more outdoor problem solving challenges and was then graded on their effectiveness by an observing officer and by their peers. The 10 week training was filled with many such exercises interspersed with lectures on the “character of successful leadership”.

I had a chance to speak with one of the former Commandants of Sandhurst a while agosandhurst and he had glowing things to say about the young cadets who had been through the Rowallan program prior to entering Sandhurst. Remember these were the rejects, the Not-Yet Ready to be accepted. He said he would always look hard at the “Rowallan chaps” when looking for a Cadet to head up special tasks.

So let’s fast forward to today. A few years ago had an interesting meeting with two of the heads of the MIT Engineering Leadership Program. As you probably know, mentorship_mit_gel_logoMIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is one of the elite global engineering and technology higher education schools. A major benefactor, Bernard M. Gordon, gave an endowment to “develop more leaders” among engineers, believing strongly that the skills of engineering coupled with the skills of leadership would greatly benefit business and mankind.

In developing their Gordon Engineering Leadership (GEL) curriculum, the faculty and advisors relied heavily on the principle of “character building through experiential learning” by having Leadership Labs every Friday where the students solve challenging situations and are then reviewed and critiqued by the advisors. In it’s fourth year now the MIT Engineering Leadership program is worth watching as an example of building more leaders. If you are curious, check out http://web.MIT.edu/gordonelp.

Thanks for joining the conversation

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

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