Dare to create successful culture change
Leadership Coach, Front of Room Leader and Systemic Change Guide

According to a large survey of multinationals by Gartner Consulting 69% of employees don’t believe in their leaders’ cultural goals. 87% don’t understand them. And 90% don’t behave in alignment with them.


Those same multinationals invest an average of 2200 US$ per employee a year into culture change initiatives.

What’s the first thought popping into your mind when reading that?

Mine was: Why not directly give that money to each employee? Let them choose what personal or professional growth programmes to invest in. Leaders would likely get back much more value for money, and so would their employees: Having choice increases a sense of autonomy which is essential to human wellbeing. It makes everyone feel appreciated, instead of just the lucky few who regularly get sent to leadership programmes. Appreciation increases motivation and thus productivity. And so much more is possible: consider the spark in curiosity about what’s next, which could ignite engaged conversations amongst colleagues about what everyone is up to, what experiences they have made, what programmes they recommend, and why.

Alas, the money never reaches most employees. So where does it all go?

Most of it flows to

  • large consultancies,

  • surveys, and

  • workshops.

All of which measures combined fail miserably at birthing sustainable culture change.

Just imagine the possible transformation of everyone’s work experience, if this money was invested into individual and team development.

Oh, the leadership that could be grown organisation wide.

But all is not lost.

Gartner’s advice as to how to make culture change successful is both simple and common sense. And it pays off to not overlook it in the busy life of any organisation. Because taking the time during the planning and execution phases of a culture change initative can save ever so much money and time down the road. Here it is, in a nutshell:

  1. Create the environment that allows for change being adopted. Most of all, budgets and operational processes determine largely how people behave.

  2. Speak openly to the tension between now and the future you want to create, as they will likely co-exist for a while, and people will respond with cynicism if you ignore that.

  3. Elicit direct, qualitative feedback from your employees. Rather than relying on quantitative surveys, this will allow you to stay in touch with the employees you need to help you change the culture.

At the end of the day, leaders need to cultivate their own curiosity and ability to change. They need to understand their people’s challenges and concerns. This is best achieved by eliciting direct feedback: Go to the canteen and talk to people you never meet on the executive floor. Ask them how you could best enable them to co-create the change that’s needed.

Finally, err on the side of running small experiments rather than large initiatives.

Starting small with simple organisational habits is proven to create much better results than those wasted dollars.

Inspired by: “CEOs must not only encourage the unvarnished truth, but also create an environment that demands it”, Harvard Business Review July-August 2019. Go here for the online version of the article.

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