More On Culture Change from Will Rogers . . .

will rogers 3

“There are many ways to skin a cat, although the cat might not agree!”  ~Will Rogers

The business world is obsessed with change; change management, change agents, change readiness, 8 Steps to Culture Change, business transformation, champions of change, culture change. The list goes on and on. I assume one of the reasons for such a huge focus on change by businesses is that technology, communications, markets and consumer expectations are changing rapidly. Globalization is a huge forcing function for change.

And the plethora of consulting firms are leading the “change cavalry”, with offerings from change readiness assessments to change management training to 8-step change frameworks and of course, culture change.

Yet with all this academic and consulting horsepower focused on business change, the interesting fact is the most change efforts fail more often than they succeed.  Numerous studies have shown that around 50-70% of business transformation, culture change and even merger integrations fail to deliver on their intended objectives.

If Will Rogers were alive today he might be able to help explain this poor change performance, and the essence of his logic may be found in the “skin the cat” quote at the beginning of this blog.  He might elaborate by saying something like: “the only cat that’s easy to skin is a dead cat, and even then you need a pretty sharp knife”!

The fact is, people don’t like things done to them. Humans tend to resist change that is imposed on them.  Yet paradoxically, humans are the most adaptable and change oriented species on the planet, when they are a part of the process. And the most stubborn and resistant to change when it is forced on them.

One of the big lessons from my book, Leverage: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, has to do with culture change.  Want to reshape your culture to better match changing business requirements and market dynamics?

Don’t call it culture change!

Avoid the word change. It has picked up over the years a toxic connotation in business, somehow implying that what we are doing is wrong and we (employees mostly) need to change.  Making people feel wrong is a certain way to create resistance.

Why not focus on “making our business better” or “making work easier” or “more smiling happy customers”.  Humans are wired for improvement, yet resistant to forced change. Then listen to what your employees have to say about making our business better.  You may discover an easier way to “skin the cat”.

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,

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 More On Culture Change from Will Rogers . . .

  1. Harriet Wadia says:


    In my book, Management and the Behavioral Sciences in 1965, which you previously referred to, I had used the word GROWTH instead of change when referring to culture. I defined growth as change for the better as viewed by all who were affected.

    I’m now working on a mission statement (short term) in a corporate culture (long term) analysis for the San Diego Symphony.

    We will be in Boston November 16 to December 16. Perhaps we will meet.

    All the best, Maneck

    1660 Luneta Drive Del Mar, CA 92014 Phone: 858 755-4815 Cell: 858 353-9337



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