Culture Change and Customer Service “Cycle-time”


Conventional wisdom is not always wisdom.

The conventional wisdom of organizational behaviour is that it takes 3 or more years to change corporate culture, mainly because culture is often heavily engrained into the systems, behaviours, work habits, values and beliefs of an organization.  Shifting all of this takes time, huge effort on the part of leadership, and, when consultants get involved, big pots of money!

Supporting this 3-5 year culture change timeframe is the fact that the majority of culture change efforts fail to deliver on their intended results.  In fact, recent studies have shown that strategy execution and business restructuring are more successful change activities than culture change.  Culture change is hard.


Culture change and customer service “cycle-time”

My recent studies of the literature on corporate culture, combined with 30+ years of hands-on change management (see LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture) has given me an insight into culture change that shows how some companies, given the proper leadership and approach, can create culture change in a relatively short time frame.

For example, Continental Airlines, under the leadership of Gordon Bethune and Greg bethuneBrenneman, led a dramatic and highly sustainable culture change in just one year, 1994-1995.  Much of the turnaround and culture change actions are documented in a fantastic book, From Worst to First.

But why was Continental able to create such a dramatic and sustainable culture change in such a short time?

I believe a great deal of the answer lies in “customer service cycle-times”!  Customer service cycle-time is the average time it takes to conclude a service transaction between the company and a customer.  In the airline business, as in retail and other FMCG organizations, the customer service cycle-time is short, somewhere between several hours and  a few days.  Thus the service experience the customer has with the corporate culture can rapidly shift as customers, such as frequent fliers and retail or on-line shoppers, interact with the organization multiple times during a given year.

In these short “experience cycles”, if the effort is made to reshape the culture and improve service, the customer experiences a positive change quickly and repeatedly, and then remembers the positive experience, which is reinforced again and again in short cycles.  The shorter the customer experience cycle, and the greater the number of new positive interactions, the quicker the customer perception of the culture, and the culture itself, will shift. And an increasing number of positive customer experiences leads to greater brand loyalty, more word of mouth advertising and “friends telling friends” about the change and the great service.

In contrast, those industries with long customer experience cycles, such as aerospace, defense, mining, pharmaceuticals, etc.. where the interaction takes place over much longer periods of time, make it difficult for culture change and feedback to take place.  It is here that much work and effort must be focused to really shift the culture and the customer experience.

Culture change cycle

Understanding the amount of work required for successful culture change will help the CEO and leadership prepare properly, make the required commitments, and better stay the course.  Many culture changes fail because leadership “gives up” too soon, expecting instant results when that may not be the way their industry responds to change.

John R Childress

Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, both available in paperback on Amazon and as an eBook on

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
This entry was posted in consulting, corporate culture, John R Childress, leadership, Organization Behavior, strategy execution and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s