Is Your Corporate Culture a Poorly Dubbed Movie?

lips moving

I enjoy watching films, I guess it’s the escapism into a new world, getting inside the lives of new characters, and being carried along by the storyline.  As Robert McKee, one of the gurus of screen writing likes to say, “It’s all about the story.”  And occasionally I go see Independent and foreign films. In all movies there is an element of the viewer being able to “suspend disbelief” and just enjoy the show. It’s what makes movies work.

But I must confess it is hard for me to get fully engaged in foreign films that have been dubbed, and many are very poorly dubbed. The lips and sound are not always in synch and the voices don’t always relate to the character or their nationality.  To me it stretches “suspended belief” to the breaking point.

Corporate Culture as a Poorly Dubbed Movie

ballmer_450Like many of you I have sat in countless senior executive presentations and road shows where the topic was “our Values” or “our Culture”.  Most are interesting, there are even some good jokes and a few compelling examples.  But is often difficult for the audience to “suspend disbelief” and buy-in to the Values “movie” happening on the podium.

The trouble is, the lips are moving, but the day-to-day behaviour is out of synch.  Part of the mystique of actors and evangelists is that they don’t regularly show their private side, so they build up a persona around their characters which helps the audience “believe” in the screen story.  Not so with company executives.  We see them every day.  We watch how they actually behave, in meetings, with colleagues, during times of company stress, at company social gatherings, in one-on-one discussions.  And often the lips and the actions are not aligned.

Organizations are shadows of their leaders; that’s the good news and the bad news!

Because employees watch their leaders for clues on what are accepted behaviours, the way a senior executive acts (her/his behaviour) is far more influential than their words. If you want to know what the culture is really like, you can listen to the road show, or you can watch how leaders act and behave.  When the lips and the actions don’t match, it’s not difficult to determine which is the real culture!

What’s the real movie?  It’s the day-to-day behaviours, not the Values statements hanging on the wall.

 Posted by:

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

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 

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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1 Response to Is Your Corporate Culture a Poorly Dubbed Movie?

  1. Harriet Wadia says:

    Dear John,

    Your reference to movies brought to mind my pioneering effort to analyze the movie “12 O’Clock High with Gregory Peck, from the perspective of leadership. It deals with the military culture and the patterns of behavior of two leaders; one people oriented, the other task oriented. Eventually, everything melds. Hope some day I can share a five hour presentation regarding this movie. It is now widely used by other management teachers, including at Harvard.

    Wishing you the best, Maneck


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