Corporate Culture, Backlash and the “bird’s nest” knot

Boy fishing

While I am now a dedicated (my wife says rabid) flyfisher and rarely even touch a spinning reel or bait casting rig, I did grow up with both a Mitchell spinning reel and a wobbly, slightly out of balance level-wind reel. My Dad wouldn’t let me touch his precious Hardy fly reels so us boys (up until we could prove we were responsible – long time for me!) were given the spinning outfits.

Spin casting is easy for a kid and basically comes down to chuck and duck.  The only thing one needs to remember is to open the bale clip so the line can shoot out.  And the Mitchell reel was cool because you could easily unscrew the handle for winding in the line and put it on either side, for left- or right-handed kids. I was the only left-hander among us four boys so I was always having to convert the reel before fishing.

backlash knotWhile spin fishing was easy, there was one thing the could definitely ruin the entire day.  And that was the backlash and resulting “bird’s nest knot”.  It’s not really a knot per se, like when we get a wind knot (really it’s a casting knot) in fly fishing, but a full-blown ugly mess!

Corporate Culture as a massive knot!

I am currently writing a new business book on corporate culture with the subtitle being: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture. For over 30 years I have been an advisor and consultant to CEOs and senior executive teams on strategy execution, leadership team alignment and culture change, but over the past 10 years I have taken my eye of off corporate culture to focus on strategy execution. I used to think I knew a lot about corporate culture and over the years of global business travel I ran into all the big names in this area.

Well, times have changed, or more accurately, the literature and number of “culture consultants” has exploded.  Everybody is writing, talking about and trying to cash in on culture and particularly, culture change.  The CEO is CEO windowbesieged with calls, suggestions, recommendations, emails and books from culture consultants.

And the more I dig into the literature and the culture offerings, the more it is beginning to look like my old spinning reel with a massive whiplash knot! The many “experts” can’t even agree on what culture is or how to define it, let alone how to change or reshape culture.

So, my task in this new book is to help the CEO, the final decision maker in most culture change and culture assessment engagements, to better understand just what these people are really talking about and to be able to tell the useful from the crap. And it’s the CEO who gets fired when strategies and transformations fail!

Few concepts in business contain so many powerful truths, and at the same time so much crap, as Corporate Culture.

I will keep you posted on my progress and expect the new book to be available in paperback and eBook well before the end of the year.

PS; If you have any experiences, good or not, with culture consultants, I would be very interested in hearing them.

Tight Lines . . . (and no more backlash knots)

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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3 Responses to Corporate Culture, Backlash and the “bird’s nest” knot

  1. Hi John,
    Interesting that you write “taken my eyes off of corporate culture to focus on strategy execution” – when strategy execution success depends so much on the CEO’s ability to work with, influence and even formulate the change steps needed for the organisation to change its culture(s). I wrote my MBA dissertation on the subject “Strong corporate cultures” – a Danish perspective” and found that national cultures an corporate cultures are deeply interdependent. – But also that there are (at least) five denominators for a strong corporate culture.
    My experience is that the best corporate culture advisers are those who worked in actual organisations themselves and even better have experience from other national cultures as well. They all have great analytical skills, are sensitive to their environment, understand how and why corporate cultures emerged during the industrialisation and evolved further into present day 21st century – and finally they know how to induce change.
    Looking forward to reading your book.
    Jens Victor


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