Business Culture Change – Going with the Flow

A Flexible Approach to Ensuring Cultural Continuity, and Effective Organizational Change Management Strategies.

Nature offers invaluable insights about change.  Imagine a lily pad floating by the banks of a river.  You try to move it to the other side by pushing waves of water toward it but movement is hampered by wind, currents, rocks and low-hanging branches on shore.  Simply agitating the water doesn’t help and may, in fact, send the lily pad off in the wrong direction.  The lesson learned?  You have to respect the environment and the natural order of things when affecting change. Where the lily pad goes largely depends on where nature will take it.  While you most definitely can influence its course, you need to remain flexible and “go with the flow” by taking into account all of the factors impeding or helping its progress toward a destination.

We sometimes use this metaphor in our coaching work in advising executives to let go of that which they cannot control.  It aptly illustrates a powerful principle that also applies to any business culture change, whether a not-for-profit, a mid-sized business or a large global company:

  • change doesn’t always follow a set formula or sequential plan.  While it is important to apply an organizational change management methodology, initiating lasting change means staying flexible, and making adjustments as change evolves

Additionally, through our work with dozens of organizations, we’ve learned that:

  • Support for change can come from unlikely places and, by breaking traditional molds, organizations may actually get more traction than previously thought possible
  • Organizational change management strategies also need to happen at an appropriate point in time and at an appropriate place in the organization, depending on the current situation and its leaders’ readiness to change
  • Developing new ways of thinking and new skills within the management team will accelerate organizational change

These organizational change management strategies have served one of our current clients very well.  This global company, headquartered in Scandinavia, is well-positioned in its industry as an expert in machine solutions and tooling for metal cutting. The success of the business is largely attributable to a high-value brand sustained by a deeply rooted culture. To keep the brand vibrant when the current leadership retires, the company has recognized the need to articulate a very clear mission statement defining the leadership competencies that must be developed in order to maintain its powerful competitive advantage.  Given that half of the senior team is retirement-eligible, time is of the essence. Not having the organizational change management methodology in-house to develop and manage such an extensive leadership development program, the company partnered with Droste Group.  We began by confirming the overarching objective:  to support the corporate mission by reinforcing the strongly held values of the parent company.

The specific goals are to:

  • Align with, and support, a corporate global talent workforce planning program that also prepares high-potential employees for future roles
  • Unify all leaders, at all levels, around the stated mission, vision and values
  • Build basic managerial skills and advanced leadership skills among all levels of leaders

People, Culture, Processes
Our immediate challenge was to involve all leaders, particularly the “soon-to-retire” leaders who had participated in an earlier program that had yielded less than desirable results.  That “top-down” approach had failed to engage these senior executives and to address two key issues:  (1) eliminating silos among them and their respective teams and (2) managing their conflict.   Both presented serious obstacles to the transfer of knowledge and culture change to the next generation of leaders. Because of this history, the senior team was reluctant to participate for fear of repeating their past experience.   It quickly became apparent that a less traditional, more flexible and sensible approach was needed to reset efforts and earn renewed buy-in from all stakeholders.   To accomplish this, we designed a three-tiered, sequenced program that engages the three distinct groups of leaders – in different ways – towards a common end goal:

  • Senior Executive Team – primarily focused on team development
  • High Potential Mid-Level Leaders – focused on acquiring advanced leadership skills
  • All Leaders – focused on providing core managerial skills

The focus for each group is based on their diverse learning styles and unique needs.  For example, the high-potential group is typically the most motivated to learn and has a capacity to assimilate new information and change faster so the pace of their program is accelerated relative to that of the other tiers. The rollout of the three programs was deliberately sequenced from the bottom-up by involving the senior team in the other two tiers first to socialize the idea of a program developed specifically for them.  The senior team worked with a Droste certified peer-level coach, whose presence and approach are well received, in both group and individual sessions.  Consequently, the senior level team has realized that they need to model new behaviors and show active involvement in the program for the other two tiers.   The C-level executives now actively participate in the two other program tracks, leading modules about their respective areas of expertise.

For Senior Executive Team

  • Strategic Planning
  • Team Meeting Rhythms
  • Team Execution
  • Trust
  • Problem-Solving
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Self Awareness

For High Potentials

  • Values & Leadership Traits
  • Self-Awareness, 360, Personal Drivers & Ability
  • Business Acumen
  • Global Mindset
  • Communication & Social Intelligence
  • Accountability & Execution
  • Conflict Resolution

For All Leaders

  • Effective Communication
  • Performance Management
  • Building Teams
  • HR for Managers
  • Coaching
  • Business Continuity
  • Business Simulation

This approach has gained the endorsement and willing participation of the senior team and has also:

  • Ensured that the content of the program – as well as its delivery – is engaging and relevant
  • Communicated common messages about the culture in ways that are applicable to the day-to-day work of each group
  • Built the required skills and also created common models and a common language within the organization
  • Broken down silos at each level
  • Helped manage conflict in a productive way
  • Set the stage for succession planning to ensure that the brand and culture of the organization is sustained

Now in its fourth year, we’ve seen how our organizational change management strategies have impacted the program on both individual leaders and the organization as a whole.  Participant feedback is extremely positive and the company’s North American President attributes strong financial results to the program, calling it “instrumental in the development and execution of our business strategy through developing stronger teams and leaders.  The program challenges us to sharpen our strategies and focus on core aspects to make us reach our goals.”  The company also credits the program in helping it win Employer of Choice awards; increasing employee survey scores; increasing internal promotions and contributing to the low turnover of participants, particularly the high potential managers that the company needs to engage and retain for future success.  There is no doubt that the program is meeting its original objective of culture and knowledge transfer as it readies future leaders for their new roles. Almost without exception, building and sustaining business culture change requires the endorsement of senior leaders.  Starting at the top, however, can lead to failure if leaders aren’t ready or open to change.  In this instance, our experience proves that flexibility, above all, can result in the desired change if you take a cue from nature and let change follow its course.  Rather than initially pursue a traditional, “top-down” approach, we started at a place in the organizational where receptivity is high.  Letting lessons learned from nature guide us, we worked through a targeted and tiered approach that has ultimately led to more sustainable results.  Going with the flow, and staying the course – albeit a flexible course – is what ultimately has led to success.