Real cultural change

Over the years, we have heard executive level individuals cry out for cultural change in their organizations without understanding the ramifications of what they are saying. With cultural transformation as usually touted, we are talking about massive levels of upheaval. The upheaval approach can be counterproductive if it does little more than produce a culture of fear and induce cynicism about the corporate improvement flavor of the week.

We have been writing about the 10,000 things in the context of slow, planned, and sustainable corporate culture change. In fact, we make so bold as to suggest this approach is the only way true cultural change has occurred through human history.

A self-check on cultural change is possible using the following approach:

  • Make a list of the most recent CEOs (at least three)
  • Now make a list of the initiatives that occurred during their tenures
  • Now assess the cultural change, if any, that occurred during these times

We suggest that only those CEOs that were in charge for a long time or who pushed the 10,000 things, or both, succeeded in any modicum of sustainable cultural change. Even more telling would be to review known “reigns of terror” for long-lasting change—usually the only legacy these marathons leave is a communal sigh of relief when they are over. We do, however, have to be cognizant of the possibility for stagnation rather than cultural change under the direction of long-termed leader. That is another  problem we will address another time.

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