Culture Change is not an initiative . . .

jack welch fists

“When the rate of change on the outside is greater than the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”   ~Jack Welch

There is a huge misconception at all levels of the business world that culture change is an initiative. An important initiative, but none the less another initiative.  And as such it can be managed with professional tools just like any other business or strategic initiative.

Wrong!  Do not pass GO, do not collect . . . .

This is one of the reasons why the majority of culture change programs fail to deliver and the percent of success, as discovered by numerous academic and consulting firm surveys, hovers around 20%!

Culture change is not an initiative, it is the enabler of all other initiatives!

Culture is the foundation for a business’s success or failure.  Culture can be a business risk, as we have seen in the recent Volkswagen scandal, or the previous banking scandals and the BP oil rig disaster that claimed 11 lives. Or it can be a catalyst for success, as is evidenced with the phenomenal growth and continued success of, the online shoe retailer, which was built on a corporate culture of exceptional customer service and employee engagement.

But how to make culture and culture change the fundamental enabler for all other initiatives?

The answer lies in another important fact about culture that is often overlooked.

Corporate culture (and culture change) can’t be managed, it must be led.

Leadership is the fundamental and necessary ingredient in successful culture change. Without a shift in leadership behaviour, the activities of leadership and leadership work processes, there will be very little, if any, significant culture change. Lots of meetings, lots of PowerPoint decks, lots of workshops, lots of new posters and internal communications, even a fancy new vision and values, but little change.

If leadership sets the internal agenda and “organizations are shadows of their leaders, then leadership development is a fundamental requirement for culture change and business improvement. But the sad fact is, as a result of the historical focus of business schools on finance, and the recent 8-year global economic downturn, most companies have eliminated internal leadership development programs as an unnecessary cost. Or if not, they just give it lip service or worse yet, outsource it.

Just as getting fit involves every aspect of one’s life (diet, exercise, nutrition, sleep, mental de-stressing, etc.), leadership development is a whole-organization process, not just a couple of external courses, then back to the same old work environment!  If you are serious about fitness, you clean out the refrigerator and restock with healthy food.  If you are serious about leadership, you change all the internal practices that have developed poor leadership habits inside the company (meetings and performance reviews, along with decision-making protocols are a great place to start).

The company with the best leaders wins!  ~Jack Welch

According to a recent poll of over 1,200 global organizations, those companies with the best rated internal leadership also are excellent at delivering sustainable performance year after year.

20 best leadership

Change your culture, change your performance. Build leadership, build a strong culture and lead the field.


Written and 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

On Amazon: 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

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 Culture Change is not an initiative . . .

  1. You are right on the money with this one, John. I’ve done strategic planning in one form or another most of my working life and this article gets to the core — change can happen only from the inside out, a.k.a., attitude!


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