How do you convince leadership that culture change is necessary?

Note: Last week we got to the "How" of culture change, but I think we got ahead of ourselves.  The very first steps is to get the leadership of your company to even see the need for culture change.  Enjoy. As always, you can find all my blog posts from 2013 to the present on my website at

"What, Me Worry?"

Certainly one of the great American icons for anyone of my generation growing up in the 60's in this country, Alfred E. Neuman, has graced the cover of Mad Magazine for over 60 years. He and Mad served as the first icon for skepticism of the shaky state of institutions in the US in the 50's and 60's. As described by author, Brian Siano, "For the smarter kids of two generations, Mad (Magazine) was a revelation: it was the first to tell us that the toys we were being sold were garbage, our teachers were phonies, our leaders were fools, our religious counselors were hypocrites, and even our parents were lying to us about damn near everything."

I believe that the same can be said about the state of the American workplace in today's world. I find that today's leaders look and plan ahead quite often by looking in the rear view mirror. Trying to run businesses and organization based on the past when the most massive cultural changes since the end of World War II are taking place right now. Generation Y, the largest cohort in the history of the US, at 86 million strong, is in the workplace and will be running the workplace within the next 5 years.

Here's the Rub

The origin of the phrase is the ancient game of bowls, which Americans may know as lawn bowling. A rub is some fault in the surface of the green that stops a bowl or diverts it from its intended direction. The term is recorded first a few years before Shakespeare’s time and it later became a broader term for an abstract impediment or hindrance.

Interestingly enough, it also aptly describes the resistance to culture change in the workplace today and, I'll give you a hint; that resistance is not coming from 'Gen Y.' I see the problem lying in the leadership ranks of Baby Bomers; seeking homeostasis, most leaders don't want to hear about change. But, ironically, and in truth, the only thing that is constant (homeostasis), is change. Those words, uttered by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus over 2500 years ago, are more true today than they ever were. The advent of technology and the rapid changes it has forced in our society and in the workplace, has made today's newest crowning achievement already outdated the minute it launches in the marketplace. So, here is the provocative question. Is our stranglehold on keeping culture at status quo in the workplace a silent revolution against all of these rapid changes?

Why Bother?

If I were to place myself in the shoes of a Baby Boomer leader today, I could very well ask the question above, "Why bother changing the culture?" I see that phrase, in other words as, "Why fix what ain't broken?" My answer to that is the best time to fix things that aren't broken is when they aren't broken! Why would you want to fix processes or systems when you are under duress to get them running again when they aren't working at all? Wouldn't it be better to let the current systems run while you develop new systems and processes to integrate when they are working in an optimal manner?

The Optimal Place to Work

Let's imagine for a minute that we have the optimal place to work. What does it look like? I could see some of the following:

  1. High staff retention.
  2. Smiles.
  3. Developing talent, rather than trying to corral it.
  4. High productivity.
  5. Smiles.
  6. Ownership mentality for staff.
  7. Engaged employees (higher than the national average of only 30%).
  8. Smiles.
  9. Great customer feedback.
  10. Great results at year-end, measured against projections at the beginning of the year.
  11. More smiles.

Let's Get Started!

When I discover a lot of resistance from leadership to changing culture or even considering it, I ask them the following question, "Wouldn't you like to know what your employees think about working here?" Most do say yes to that question and if they don't, then I move on. More often than not, they ask me the logical next question, "How could this be done?" Now - wait for it - my brilliant response is, "I ask them." I conduct what I call a cultural audit; a series of open-ended questions with a strong representative sampling of the entire staff complement, in a confidential, one-on-one setting, and then summarized by the themes I hear to the leadership, accompanied by my conclusions and recommendations.

The best part of this type of discovery is that I can usually find some easy wins for leadership to quickly improve the quality of their workplace, with little outlay in terms of dollars or time, but have a big impact on the day-to-day life of the people that work there. With the bigger challenges and changes I recommend that they be woven into the fabric of a strategic plan - next week's topic!

Next week: Integrating culture into your strategic plan