Now that we have busted the belief that you need everyone on board in order to start a culture transformation process, we will add an additional layer to that belief — the belief or myth that you need to start such a process at the top, with the most senior leaders, the CEO or the Executive Committee.
But do you really need them to start?
Of course, it is an ideal scenario to have the top leadership of your organization leading the culture transformation efforts — the leaders who are role-modeling the behaviors of the desired culture and are fully engaged in the process. In our experience helping global companies with culture transformation, this only happen in about half of the cases.
Remember the story in the previous article about the large manufacturing organization and how we engaged with a single team at the time. Other teams took notice and engaged with the HR team to set the teams up with their own leadership development programs, and slowly the culture change in the organization began to grow more and more obvious. After four years of working with different teams, business units and leaders, the CEO started to take notice. The overall performance of the organization kept improving, and he realized the new organizational culture was the driver for this. The organization’s board, including the CEO, is now embarking on their own leadership development journey to take the culture transformation to another level. This program will cascade to other leaders in the organization who have not yet participated. The HR team never lost sight of their ultimate desire to change the culture, but they focused their energy on those willing to engage, eventually impacting the 56,000+ employees.
Instead of focusing on who is not on board (e.g., your CEO), how can you focus on who is? Just like the innovators and early adopters, can you find a leader or a team that has the energy, engagement and appetite to start something new? The more you focus on who is on board instead of focusing on who is not, the more likely you will see those who are, and there are more than you had imaged. You just didn’t see them.
Just think about when you had set the intention of buying a new car, for example. All of a sudden, you are much more conscious about the cars around you — the colors, the ones you want, the ones you don’t like, the model, the make. You see those same cars every day on your commute, but when you actually put your focus on them, you are more aware or conscious of them.
This kind of thinking will allow you to become, what we like to call, a secret agent. Your bigger goal is to engage the organization in a culture transformation process. But not having the top leadership on board might make this seem like an impossible mission. Even if for now you start with one leader, a single team or a business unit, you never lose sight of this ultimate goal.
Here are some questions to reflect on:
- Where do you focus your attention? Is your attention helping or preventing you from achieving your goals?
- What is already happening in your organization that is not being highlighted?
- What stories are critical and not being told?