THOUGHT LEADERSHIP

Thought Leadership

By Dan Lynn 22 Nov, 2016
According to Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends survey, organizational culture issues are now the number one challenge companies face around the world. The survey found that more than half of respondents say their organizations have either a poor program or no program at all to measure and improve culture. As coaches, we very often find leading culture to be a core challenge faced by the leaders we are coaching. We further find that leaders often operate with assumptions about culture that turn out to be inaccurate. In this week’s episode, guest host Randy Chittum will talk with Gerry McDonough, CEO of LeadFirst, a human capital consulting firm in DC. In this conversation, we will learn from LeadFirst’s culture studies now spanning more than thirty years, with almost 650 cultures studied and developed. Another key topic for discussion will be the impact of culture on performance and if there are cultural factors that indicate a greater likelihood of success.

https://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/95767/understanding-what-really-matters-about-organizational-culture-a-conversation-with-gerry-mcdonough
By Dan Lynn 15 Apr, 2016

According to Deloitte's 2015 Global Human Capital Trends survey, organizational culture issues are now the no. 1 challenge companies face around the world. Culture formation and development is difficult to manage effectively because it doesn't lend itself to "templated" approaches. The survey found that more than half of respondents say their organizations have either a poor program or no program to measure and improve culture and engagement. In working with hundreds of companies to create high performance cultures, we've found these mistakes to be the most common in their efforts to create a high performance culture.

Mistake #1 - Being too "philosophical"

Many times executives aren't clear what they mean by "culture" or, more importantly, what culture they are trying to create and they get stuck in philosophical debates without any forward movement.  Research has revealed conclusively the cultural characteristics that correlate with organizational success , including financial results, and these behavioral characteristics can be rigorously measured. Research also shows that a company's stated values only impact performance when they are expressed through specific behaviors. It is important to be philosophically aligned, but in the end the question is "what  behaviors  define the culture we need to execute our strategy?"

Mistake #2 - Launching culture change initiatives without data

Nearly everything affects culture, so there are a huge number of potentially useful actions organizations can take to shape and improve it. But not everything equally moves the needle.  Without real data, organizations are spending time and resources with no guarantee of any real return .  Culture is an intangible asset of enormous value. Executives would never settle for such lack of rigor in measuring and managing their other critical assets.

Mistake #3 - Spreading themselves too thin

A lack of real measures means many initiatives seem like good ideas. So instead of picking the top 3 or 4 things that will move the culture toward the strategically defined culture of the future, organizations do "a little of a lot of things" thus diluting their results and squandering the opportunity to make significant, fast and measurable progress.

LeadFirst regularly helps organizations address these and other culture development issues. Whether your organization is new to strategic culture management or has been measuring culture for years, let us help you track and/or improve the ROI of your culture development efforts.

By David Lynn 15 Apr, 2016

Increasing numbers of organizations are embarking on serious culture change/culture shaping initiatives.  LeadFirst  has been on the forefront of this issue for 30 years. We’ve worked with scores of organizations, from FORTUNE 100 behemoths to fast growth startups to forward thinking non-profits. We’ve witnessed, and contributed to, the evolution of such efforts. Below is a distillation of what we have learned are the Critical Success Factors in successful culture shaping; a report from the front lines of culture change. In 30 years of intensive culture shaping work, we have uncovered seven Critical Success Factors:

1.   Define your Future Culture in terms of your organization’s strategy and outcomes. Culture is more than an effort to "continuously improve the workplace" as some try to characterize it. It is also more than an attempt to "live our values", though this is essential. The question is, "What culture is required for successful execution of our strategy?" The are many legitimate reasons to care about culture; a compelling culture is appealing for everyone and contributes to well-being, employee engagement and the ability to attract top talent, for example. But these may not, in themselves, be reasons enough to take it on. In the end, we ask our clients to care about culture only because it drives strategy execution and business outcomes. Executives must be involved in defining the Future State culture in terms of what will support the execution of their business strategy.

2. Define culture in terms of the  behaviors  you want to encourage.Organizational culture is complex. It’s such a big topic that seemingly everything affects, and is affected by, it. Related to the factor above, it is critical that culture be defined in terms of behaviors. There is more than one way to define culture, but to make the most progress the fastest, take a behavioral view. The question that everyone in your organization shares, whether consciously or not, is, "What behaviors does it take to survive, thrive and fit in around here?" Culture can be seen as the symphony (or cacophony) of voices "spoken" through senior leaders’ behavior as well as through the myriad policies, processes, structures and systems (e.g. the performance management system or typical processes for making decisions) that employees hear every day. They all serve to define and reinforce the behaviors required for success. Are they the behaviors you need for successful execution of culture? How do you know?

3. Make a clear and compelling business case.  The jury is in with regard to culture’s role in driving outcomes . Culture is not just an enabler. It is, in fact, essential to the successful execution of strategy. There is also growing clarity about which cultural characteristics are most associated with these outcomes. We have found that many (but not all) executives theoretically agree with these statements. But even those who agree may lose their conviction without compelling evidence. And the depth of their conviction will largely determine an organization’s success. This evidence exists. This case can be made more convincingly now than at any time in the past.

4.  Directly and vigorously engage the Executive Team.  Success in culture change requires the informed commitment of the executive team. This may seem obvious as this is true of most important initiatives. But we have seen, far too often, forward thinking human resources executives try to tackle substantive culture change with only tacit "approval" for doing so. Culture shaping requires changing leadership behavior, often profoundly, at the top of the organization. If executives think this is a "program" or "an HR thing" your impact will be minimal. Also, executives have to demonstrate they are unwavering in their commitment to changing the culture. They have to be clear and consistent in their messaging about both  why  the culture must change as well as to  what  it is changing.

5. Bring data. Armed with strong executive commitment, the question becomes what, specifically to change. If everything affects culture, what will make the biggest impact the fastest? This is where culture measurement should contribute. And not all culture measures are designed to deliver on this. Most reputable culture measurement systems can help you understand what type of culture you have and can also help you define the culture you need. But most cannot tell you, with any depth or reliability, what to  do  about it. Select a culture measurement system designed to do so, one that can help you make the business case, as well as point the way to the changes that must be made.

6. Think big and act fast. Your task is not only to promote or instill the preferred Future culture, it is also to defeat the existing one. You will meet with all kinds of resistance, even from well-meaning employees and leaders who understand the limitations of the existing culture. Their reactions will range from strong support, through tacit resistance to outright sabotage. Small, incremental measures are the easiest to resist. For example, if your culture is too bureaucratic, as so many are, the bureaucracy will find a way to survive small efforts to change it. The culture plan (yes, you need a Plan) should be built upon the data (see above) that reveals the most significant barriers to realizing the Preferred Future culture. It is far easier to take aggressive action when your action is focused on the highest priority issues . If the data reveal that you must move decision making downward, then you need an aggressive plan for doing so.

7. Involve everyone. There will be a temptation to hold the culture data (which is often unsettling) close to the vest and to treat the culture change as primarily a top/down initiative. To be sure, culture change cannot be an entirely democratic process. Some decisions will be difficult and must be driven deep into the organization whether people "like" it or not. But it is a mistake to use only older, autocratic methods(which represent the "old" culture) when trying to bring about a more contemporary and sustainable one. In short, it is critical that people at all levels are asked for their feedback and guidance throughout the process.

If you’re looking for a best-in-class way to address culture that includes the 7 Critical Success Factors and results in a measurable ROI that can be proven to your Board, CFO and/or Executive Team, we invite you to demo LeadFirst's Diialog Culture Management System. The system combines years of organizational culture consulting expertise and culture migration plan development processes with a safe, secure and highly engaging executive dashboard platform upon which to define your organization's preferred culture, as well as your present culture, sub-cultures and counter-cultures

If there is a gap between the culture you have and the one you need to execute your business strategy, Diialog will isolate and rank order the issues that stand in your way. If you need help developing initiatives that will address culture-restraining issues, switch on the Ideation™ function to fully. Diialog includes periodic accountability measurements, both broad and targeted, to track the progress of your unique initiatives, and create accountability for your culture improvement at all levels of the organization

Take the first step and get a baseline measure of your culture today. Then, unleash the power of the continuous Diialog Culture Measurement & Management System to objectively manage the culture change process, track your success and keep your executive team focused on the progress. The process is easy to pilot. Click here to schedule a call today!

By Dan Lynn 02 Feb, 2016

There is such a great yearning for more true leadership in the world – in business, in politics, and in our communities.   And we are once again reminded of this based on the updated  Deloitte study  that reinforces we are facing a crisis of leadership in the world and in business.

This crisis of leadership is not in place due to a lack of resources to develop leadership. For example, if you search the word “leadership” in Amazon.com you will find close to a quarter million titles on the subject.  In addition, there has been an explosion in the number of consultants and consulting firms offering executive coaching and a variety of other services dedicated to developing the leadership required. Finally, there is a growing body of research showing a direct correlation between the quality of leadership and the quality of results that are achieved by an organization. The return on investment of developing leaders is no longer in question.  

With a clear need for more effective leadership, a clear ROI on developing it and so many resources standing in wait for those wishing to develop greater leadership – why aren’t more business executives embracing their own part in the development of their own leadership, for themselves and for their other leaders?   I believe a number of illusions are standing in the way:

  1. The “time is not right” illusion. Many executives see the value of leadership yet feel other pressures that seem to counter investing the necessary resources in their own development. It might seem like something to do when they have more time and resources to invest in themselves. There is a sense that “If I take the time now it, somehow will interfere with what I am trying to accomplish.” In other words, it’s important but not as urgent as whatever is getting in the way. Yet, there is never a better time to develop leadership then when you feel pressured to generate better results and there is no better investment then when you feel pressured to  cause a change in outcomes critical to your success.  
  2. The “It’s them, not me” illusion. Some business executives feel it is better to focus development on others in their organization rather than investing in their own continuing development. They see leadership development interventions as a way to “fix” their direct reports or to get others to do a better job at following their directives. This is certainly a safer way to develop leadership and at least some development might be better than none. Yet, if a business executive truly wants to increase their impact then they must walk their own talk and continuously up their game. As was mentioned above, there is no better investment than in developing leadership and when others see you continuously developing, it inspires them to do the same.
  3. The “there is not business case” Illusion. Again, this notion has been thoroughly dispelled by research. There is a direct correlation between leadership and greater business success. That said, there is another side to this. If we are throwing people into leadership programs only for the sake of the business rather than starting with a purer desire to empower them towards their own personal growth and helping them to find the personal value in becoming a better leader – our leadership programs will fail to meet expectations. Why? Because, while leadership is expressed as a series of skills – leadership is not merely a skill set. The development of leadership requires a transformation in a person’s heart and mindset. This shift in heart and mind is the process through which leadership expands in the person. Leaders are born out of a kind of awakening that happens at a deeper level. Unless organizations value this first – their investment in leadership will not be fully realized.
  4. The “I already am a great leader” illusion.   Bottom line, the best leaders have humility. For example, when it comes to Leadership 360 degree feedback, it is typical for strong leaders to score themselves lower than others on leadership competencies and for average to poor leaders to score themselves higher than others on leadership competencies.   In short, arrogance allows many leaders to resist the development path. This is a tough one to overcome because, unless leaders are coachable, it is highly unlikely they will benefit from the developmental journey.

There may be other illusions not mentioned here and I invite you to add any you see in the comments section below.

In my view, the leadership crisis will resolve itself one way or the other. Either more business executives will wake up from these illusions with a willingness to evolve or we will face a global business crisis that will inspire the growth of leadership out of necessity.   Which will it be?  Well if any of the illusions above resonate - a more proactive shift might just start with you committing to your own development.


David Craig Utts, MS

Expert in Developing Engaged, High Performing Cultures and Leaders

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Thought Leadership

By Dan Lynn 22 Nov, 2016
According to Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends survey, organizational culture issues are now the number one challenge companies face around the world. The survey found that more than half of respondents say their organizations have either a poor program or no program at all to measure and improve culture. As coaches, we very often find leading culture to be a core challenge faced by the leaders we are coaching. We further find that leaders often operate with assumptions about culture that turn out to be inaccurate. In this week’s episode, guest host Randy Chittum will talk with Gerry McDonough, CEO of LeadFirst, a human capital consulting firm in DC. In this conversation, we will learn from LeadFirst’s culture studies now spanning more than thirty years, with almost 650 cultures studied and developed. Another key topic for discussion will be the impact of culture on performance and if there are cultural factors that indicate a greater likelihood of success.

https://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/95767/understanding-what-really-matters-about-organizational-culture-a-conversation-with-gerry-mcdonough
By Dan Lynn 15 Apr, 2016

According to Deloitte's 2015 Global Human Capital Trends survey, organizational culture issues are now the no. 1 challenge companies face around the world. Culture formation and development is difficult to manage effectively because it doesn't lend itself to "templated" approaches. The survey found that more than half of respondents say their organizations have either a poor program or no program to measure and improve culture and engagement. In working with hundreds of companies to create high performance cultures, we've found these mistakes to be the most common in their efforts to create a high performance culture.

Mistake #1 - Being too "philosophical"

Many times executives aren't clear what they mean by "culture" or, more importantly, what culture they are trying to create and they get stuck in philosophical debates without any forward movement.  Research has revealed conclusively the cultural characteristics that correlate with organizational success , including financial results, and these behavioral characteristics can be rigorously measured. Research also shows that a company's stated values only impact performance when they are expressed through specific behaviors. It is important to be philosophically aligned, but in the end the question is "what  behaviors  define the culture we need to execute our strategy?"

Mistake #2 - Launching culture change initiatives without data

Nearly everything affects culture, so there are a huge number of potentially useful actions organizations can take to shape and improve it. But not everything equally moves the needle.  Without real data, organizations are spending time and resources with no guarantee of any real return .  Culture is an intangible asset of enormous value. Executives would never settle for such lack of rigor in measuring and managing their other critical assets.

Mistake #3 - Spreading themselves too thin

A lack of real measures means many initiatives seem like good ideas. So instead of picking the top 3 or 4 things that will move the culture toward the strategically defined culture of the future, organizations do "a little of a lot of things" thus diluting their results and squandering the opportunity to make significant, fast and measurable progress.

LeadFirst regularly helps organizations address these and other culture development issues. Whether your organization is new to strategic culture management or has been measuring culture for years, let us help you track and/or improve the ROI of your culture development efforts.

By David Lynn 15 Apr, 2016

Increasing numbers of organizations are embarking on serious culture change/culture shaping initiatives.  LeadFirst  has been on the forefront of this issue for 30 years. We’ve worked with scores of organizations, from FORTUNE 100 behemoths to fast growth startups to forward thinking non-profits. We’ve witnessed, and contributed to, the evolution of such efforts. Below is a distillation of what we have learned are the Critical Success Factors in successful culture shaping; a report from the front lines of culture change. In 30 years of intensive culture shaping work, we have uncovered seven Critical Success Factors:

1.   Define your Future Culture in terms of your organization’s strategy and outcomes. Culture is more than an effort to "continuously improve the workplace" as some try to characterize it. It is also more than an attempt to "live our values", though this is essential. The question is, "What culture is required for successful execution of our strategy?" The are many legitimate reasons to care about culture; a compelling culture is appealing for everyone and contributes to well-being, employee engagement and the ability to attract top talent, for example. But these may not, in themselves, be reasons enough to take it on. In the end, we ask our clients to care about culture only because it drives strategy execution and business outcomes. Executives must be involved in defining the Future State culture in terms of what will support the execution of their business strategy.

2. Define culture in terms of the  behaviors  you want to encourage.Organizational culture is complex. It’s such a big topic that seemingly everything affects, and is affected by, it. Related to the factor above, it is critical that culture be defined in terms of behaviors. There is more than one way to define culture, but to make the most progress the fastest, take a behavioral view. The question that everyone in your organization shares, whether consciously or not, is, "What behaviors does it take to survive, thrive and fit in around here?" Culture can be seen as the symphony (or cacophony) of voices "spoken" through senior leaders’ behavior as well as through the myriad policies, processes, structures and systems (e.g. the performance management system or typical processes for making decisions) that employees hear every day. They all serve to define and reinforce the behaviors required for success. Are they the behaviors you need for successful execution of culture? How do you know?

3. Make a clear and compelling business case.  The jury is in with regard to culture’s role in driving outcomes . Culture is not just an enabler. It is, in fact, essential to the successful execution of strategy. There is also growing clarity about which cultural characteristics are most associated with these outcomes. We have found that many (but not all) executives theoretically agree with these statements. But even those who agree may lose their conviction without compelling evidence. And the depth of their conviction will largely determine an organization’s success. This evidence exists. This case can be made more convincingly now than at any time in the past.

4.  Directly and vigorously engage the Executive Team.  Success in culture change requires the informed commitment of the executive team. This may seem obvious as this is true of most important initiatives. But we have seen, far too often, forward thinking human resources executives try to tackle substantive culture change with only tacit "approval" for doing so. Culture shaping requires changing leadership behavior, often profoundly, at the top of the organization. If executives think this is a "program" or "an HR thing" your impact will be minimal. Also, executives have to demonstrate they are unwavering in their commitment to changing the culture. They have to be clear and consistent in their messaging about both  why  the culture must change as well as to  what  it is changing.

5. Bring data. Armed with strong executive commitment, the question becomes what, specifically to change. If everything affects culture, what will make the biggest impact the fastest? This is where culture measurement should contribute. And not all culture measures are designed to deliver on this. Most reputable culture measurement systems can help you understand what type of culture you have and can also help you define the culture you need. But most cannot tell you, with any depth or reliability, what to  do  about it. Select a culture measurement system designed to do so, one that can help you make the business case, as well as point the way to the changes that must be made.

6. Think big and act fast. Your task is not only to promote or instill the preferred Future culture, it is also to defeat the existing one. You will meet with all kinds of resistance, even from well-meaning employees and leaders who understand the limitations of the existing culture. Their reactions will range from strong support, through tacit resistance to outright sabotage. Small, incremental measures are the easiest to resist. For example, if your culture is too bureaucratic, as so many are, the bureaucracy will find a way to survive small efforts to change it. The culture plan (yes, you need a Plan) should be built upon the data (see above) that reveals the most significant barriers to realizing the Preferred Future culture. It is far easier to take aggressive action when your action is focused on the highest priority issues . If the data reveal that you must move decision making downward, then you need an aggressive plan for doing so.

7. Involve everyone. There will be a temptation to hold the culture data (which is often unsettling) close to the vest and to treat the culture change as primarily a top/down initiative. To be sure, culture change cannot be an entirely democratic process. Some decisions will be difficult and must be driven deep into the organization whether people "like" it or not. But it is a mistake to use only older, autocratic methods(which represent the "old" culture) when trying to bring about a more contemporary and sustainable one. In short, it is critical that people at all levels are asked for their feedback and guidance throughout the process.

If you’re looking for a best-in-class way to address culture that includes the 7 Critical Success Factors and results in a measurable ROI that can be proven to your Board, CFO and/or Executive Team, we invite you to demo LeadFirst's Diialog Culture Management System. The system combines years of organizational culture consulting expertise and culture migration plan development processes with a safe, secure and highly engaging executive dashboard platform upon which to define your organization's preferred culture, as well as your present culture, sub-cultures and counter-cultures

If there is a gap between the culture you have and the one you need to execute your business strategy, Diialog will isolate and rank order the issues that stand in your way. If you need help developing initiatives that will address culture-restraining issues, switch on the Ideation™ function to fully. Diialog includes periodic accountability measurements, both broad and targeted, to track the progress of your unique initiatives, and create accountability for your culture improvement at all levels of the organization

Take the first step and get a baseline measure of your culture today. Then, unleash the power of the continuous Diialog Culture Measurement & Management System to objectively manage the culture change process, track your success and keep your executive team focused on the progress. The process is easy to pilot. Click here to schedule a call today!

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