Driving the need for culture change!

You have realized that something needs to change in your company! Customer satisfaction can be low. Employee morale can be low. Financial results and operational performance can fall far short of your goals. You need a culture change!

Or maybe you don’t have any of these problems. But you feel that your company is currently performing well but is not well positioned to reach the next level and thrive in the future.

Or it could be any combination of these pressures. Whatever the reason, you’ve realized that your organization’s culture needs to change to get the results you want!

People react differently to change. Many people will readily accept change. Not only that, they see the need for change long before management sees it. And they are often the catalyst for change.

Yet there are many others who resist any change. You’re either happy with the way things are going. You don’t like the uncertainty or perhaps the shattering implications of change. Or they simply don’t have a wide enough view and perspective of the need for change because they can’t see the big picture in terms of competition, financial performance, or environmental factors.

cultural change

Yet you see the need for cultural change for the current and/or long-term survival of your business. And you are faced with the reality that there are those who embrace change, those who openly resist change, and those who are passive aggressive and just watch and wait.

So how do you get your organization noticed and begin to bring about the culture change that you and your company need?

Depart for Troubled Waters!

The CEO asked me to run a troubled facility. The operation had been acquired in recent years but they were struggling. Previously they were part of a much larger company acting as a cost center with the parent company being their only proprietary internal customer.

Now they had to operate as a profit center. They also had to take on new, different customers. They had to be extremely competitive in terms of cost, customer proximity, skills, delivery and quality. They did not perform very well on most of these factors.

When I was announced as the new General Manager for the facility, I immediately started meeting with as many people as possible. I have arranged meetings with some of them. Others just proactively reached out to me and shared their stories, concerns, opinions, and concerns. It didn’t take long to get an idea of ​​what was happening and what needed to be changed.

A common theme was delivery performance. It seemed that we were behind schedule with every client we had. More specifically, we lacked the delivery schedule of the commitments we made, which were already lower than what each client wanted.

At the end of my first week, an employee came into my office and sat down to tell me about the situation at one of our customers. The employee was literally in tears. We ran out of supplies for our biggest customer. Most importantly, the product we shipped to this customer went into one of their new products. Our inability to deliver threatened to jeopardize our client’s plans to launch their new product. That would be catastrophic!

Over the course of my second week, I had a pretty good understanding of what was going on. It was easy to get a quick overview of the financial situation and operational performance. But it also became clear that there was no existing plan of action to get out of the situation. Also, most people knew what was going on, but there was no sense of urgency to fix the situation. Although there were many great people, the organization’s culture was happy to let the situation continue. They were in a death spiral!

Crumpled paper!

It was time for me to meet with the entire management team. And I had to get her attention. The situation was analogous to the boiling frog syndrome. If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, the frog will immediately jump out. But if you put a frog in a pot of cold water and then start boiling it, the frog will stay in the pot and die. I had a lot of frogs sitting in the pot watching it cook and there wasn’t much jumping.

When the management team gathered in the meeting room, I was standing at the front of the room in front of one of those big easel stands made out of pads of paper. With a lot of white space on the page, I reached out to the team and asked them to tell me about the behaviors and culture they experienced every day.

The words came quickly and furiously. Mistrust! Bad communication! pointer! silos! Other people don’t do their job! Out of control! No leadership! No integrity! Bad promises! The list went on and on and on. That was all exactly what I had observed as well.

I continued to add words of my own. The big slip was full. With virtually no positive word on the page, it has captured and characterized the culture of the organization in black and white for all to see. At this point I asked everyone to scan the paper.

And then I said, “And all this behavior will stop right now!”. At this point I ripped the paper off the easel, balled it up as I stood outside the room, and threw it in a bin! Their eyes and mouths were wide open.

I got her attention!

At that point, I then set up a chart I had previously created that listed all of the positive behaviors and culture change that we would now be living each day. The list included items like positivity, honoring commitments, trust, integrity, teamwork, customer focus, accountability, empowerment, and so on. We would call each other if anyone anywhere in the organization was down at any level. There was no more room for tolerance of the old ways.

I used this chart at every meeting for months. Cultural change is a journey, not an event. We needed to reinforce those desired behaviors and recognize every day when they happened and when they didn’t.

Things started to get better. We have turned around our delivery performance and fulfilled our commitments to our customers. We did not gate the launch of our largest customer’s product. In fact, we were able to quickly reverse this situation and have more positive and productive conversations with all of our customers.

morale boosted! Our financial performance has improved! And our operational performance has improved!

But none of this could have happened if we hadn’t first recognized the need to change the culture!


Driving culture change can be difficult under the best of circumstances. Getting people to see the need for change even in the face of a catastrophic situation may not be enough. And it can be even harder to bring about culture change when things seem to be going well.

But when you look at your metrics and they’re falling short of your goals, or when you look at your strategy and wonder if you can execute on it, you should always consider the culture in your organization and determine if you need to drive a culture change, to achieve the desired results.

Originally published August 15, 2017.

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