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3 Key Elements of Highly Effective Culture Transformations

By Amir Ghannad, Founder, The Ghannad Group

Amir Ghannad, Founder, The Ghannad Group

Workplace engagement studies have consistently shown over the past several years that a staggering 70 percent of employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged. These statistics are alarming on so many levels that they point to billions of dollars in productivity losses amounting each year, and perhaps more importantly, they speak to the human toll that being dissatisfied with one’s workplace culture takes on the families and communities of employees.

"Culture transformation is an integrated approach and ongoing process, not a set of tools or a standalone initiative"

The desire to be a High Performance Organization (HPO) alone is not the distinguishing factor between companies. Everybody wants to be an HPO. It is that desire, along with the commitment, discipline and actions necessary to become one that separates the Transformative Leaders from the rest. The process of becoming an organization that systematically delivers and sustains high performance involves the creation of a High Commitment Culture (HCC).

In my book, The Transformative Leader, I list 33 distinctions between HCC’s and traditional cultures and several counterfeit behaviors that are associated with those. A small sample of these distinctions is shown below:

• Shared leadership and decision making vs. Top-down dictatorship
• Valued and engaged team members at all levels vs. “Haves” and Have nots”
• Stretching goals, inspired by future possibilities vs. limited by past constraints
• Focus on commitment vs. compliance
• Principles and guidelines established to support the 98 percent who want to do the right thing vs. rules and policies to protect the company against the 2 percent who don’t
• Plenty of intrinsic rewards vs. heavy reliance on extrinsic rewards

Culture transformation must start with a leader’s genuine commitment to create the desired future state, followed by active role modeling of the mindset and behaviors conducive to initiating and sustaining such transformation. Almost invariably, an organization’s seeming inability to transition into an HCC comes down to one simple element: their leader is simply not willing to transform his/her own ways.

The leaders who succeed in transforming their organizations into HCCs have the courage to begin the transformation process by getting themselves and their own limiting beliefs out of the way. I have had the pleasure of working with so many of such leaders who inherently recognize that a huge part of their role and responsibility is to constantly transform and evolve the culture.

The focus of this article is on providing some guidance to those who do see the value in effectively and systematically transform their workplace culture and results but need a little help in making it happen.

I have learned over the years that, while models and standard approaches are important guides, the actual process of culture transformation is unique to each organization and must be crafted based on careful consideration of the desired outcomes, the current state of results, and an assessment of the current culture and the organizational design features that have created that culture. With that said, I have also come to recognize that all successful culture transformation share the following three key elements:

1. Focus on Delivering and Sustaining Superior Results

I recognize that this key element may seem contrary to the emphasis I have placed on the value of culture, but that is not the case at all. Culture, or a set of behaviors that culminates in what we consider the culture of a team, is what produces the results. However, if you try to transform the culture as a social experiment without some stretching goals and an outcome that inspires the organization, the momentum cannot be sustained and, ultimately, it won’t work. You end up with a team that gets along but has neither a sense of purpose to drive them nor a sense of satisfaction to fulfill them.

Some of the ways the intent of this key element can be met are as follows:

• Have a clear vision (both results and cultural attributes) to which leaders are committed.
• Maintain clearly articulated action plans, even though they will continue to evolve.
• Have a robust review process to check progress and make adjustments.
• Ensure that single-point accountability for the transformation resides with the leader, even though much of the authority should be shared.

2. On-Going Leadership Capability Building At All Levels

This is the one ingredient that makes everything else work. Without leadership capability at all levels, the organization will only get pennies on every dollar that is invested in other improvements.

Leaders at all levels of the organization must develop:

• Mastery of Transformative Leadership and willingness to start with themselves and positively influence the culture.
• Individual accountability for their own personal and professional development.
• A Servant Leadership mentality and the coaching skills that go along with it.
• The courage to make bold choices and the commitment to implement them effectively.

3. Culture Transformation, As an Integrated Approach, Not a Project

While it is important to have clearly defined timelines, success criteria, and ownership of various aspects of the work, the work to transform the culture cannot be an independent set of interventions owned by a few people in the organization. It has to be built into everything we do across the organization.

• Culture transformation is an integrated approach and ongoing process, not a set of tools or a standalone initiative.
• Principles and methodologies of culture transformation must be built into work processes, systems, and policies that deliver the results, so that they are practiced every day in the course of delivering those results.
• Organizational design features, such as structure, rewards, decision making, information sharing, and so on must be holistically evaluated and modified to create the desired culture.

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