Leadership, Culture and Change

Any group of humans quickly forms a culture.  Typically cultures, once formed, are fairly stable, requiring some significant influence to change them.  But – they can change and change significantly and quickly with sufficient influence.

As an individual we might be a involved in several different cultures and may, consciously or unconsciously, adjust our behaviour as we shift from one to another.

For a business, culture is critically important.  Culture determines levels of performance and risk.  It will define how the organisation responds to success, failure or crisis.  It will control how newcomers are welcomed or not and how the organisation responds to change and innovation.  Make no mistake culture is everything.

The greatest influence on culture is from leadership (formal and informal), but the environment, the product and the market will be among the other influences. For most businesses the culture they have is an accident.  And if a culture is not intentionally designed and curated, what forms may or may not be suited to the objectives of the organisation.

Increasingly new businesses are highly intentional about their culture and some companies are so proud of their intentional culture design that they go public about it.  Netflix Culture Deck, Zappos Values and the Valve Handbook are all available online and give an insight into how these organisations intentionally curate their culture.

However, this still leaves many, many organisations with cultures that are not ideally suited to the results they would like to get.  Internally focussed customer service organisations, self orientated banks, conservative software companies, buccaneering oil and gas companies and so on.

Most of these companies will remain as they are unless something happens to make them change.   There are three reasons that organisations choose to change their culture.

1 – it is forced on them by crisis (and often regulators).
2 – it becomes necessary through mergers and acqusiitons
3 – the market/results/competitors demand it

You will deduce from this that it is rare for organisations to spontaneously decide that culture change is what they need. Yet the surest way to sustain success and minimise risks is an adaptive self aware, culture that continually adjusts to the prevailing conditions.

If leaders are the greatest influencers on culture, it follows that for cultures to change leaders are critical to the process. Leaders have to accept the role of culture in performance and the role of leadership in culture.  They have to be willing to let go of the idea that they are there to lead/control/manage performance and accept the idea that they are there to curate the culture and that if they do that well, the performance will follow.

Helping these organisations change their culture to one that delivers the performance they seek in terms of service, or reliability or innovation or risk is what Holos does. Without giving away the “secret sauce” of how Holos delivers on the promise “Change is Easy”, I can share some of the principles that are in play, for example:

The process starts with identifying the target culture that the organisation needs, while at the same time establishing trust and engagement among those who are responsible for the business, division or department.

We move on to work with the leaders and teams to engage them with the vision of how the culture can be and the benefits it holds for them and prepare them for their role as leaders of culture rather than performance.

It is important to minimise distraction from other projects and priorities and to build the emotional, spiritual, rational and physical resilience in the leadership and then the organisation that will see the changes work through.

Whatever leaders choose it is a truth that all organisations are perfectly designed for the results they are getting.  If you are not happy with the results of your enterprise, you have to look at all aspects of how it is designed including the culture.

Please share your ideas, comment and discuss here – click on the blog title and scroll to the bottom to find the comment box.

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With love


Neil Crofts
authentic business



About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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