In the world of cultural transformation – also labeled by some consultants as re-culturalization – the most common mistake made by new leaders intent on changing the values and beliefs of the workforce is not appreciating or understanding the style and philosophy they are inheriting.
It is impossible to rebuild an organization’s value system that is deeply embedded in the recesses of employees’ brains without connecting with them in their environment. Yeah, I know, cultural dysfunction almost always cries out for immediate change but very few leaders have the skills or street cred to achieve that challenging objective. So, you have to start at the front door and systematically work your way through the house.
This means building relationships with people who may believe or act in a way that is diametrically opposed to your strongly held beliefs. More often than not, they are core trendsetters who other employees will follow. If you cannot convince that group, how will you ever win over the crowd in the rest of the house? The answer is you won’t.
There is another important factor that frequently trips up, or limits, a new CEO’s effectiveness – a reluctance to wander the halls and engage with employees who may not be happy, at least initially, that there is a new marshal in town. However, if the place needs turning around, chances are better than overwhelming that the turnaround, to be sustained, will require changes in the culture. That cannot be driven from the corner office, I don’t care how loud you scream or how many people you fire. You have to lead by walking around, meeting people, building relationships and asking a lot of questions sans any quick-draw judgments about why this or that is done the way it is.
If you want to talk about doing the little things like picking up trash in the hallway, you had better be prepared to do it yourself. There is nothing more off-putting to skeptical employees than a leader who likes to preach but is unwilling to follow the same rules. You have to be consistent.
So, if you are a board search committee looking to find a new CEO to lead a turnaround, you had better focus on leadership style and vet the candidates’ performance on these very issues.
© 2020 John Gregory Self