at your best spring 2010

4 keys to successfully leading and sustaining culture transformation

By Larry Senn, Senn Delaney Chairman

May 10, 2010

Leading culture transformation is a journey, not an event. The process requires an integrated approach that must begin at the top of the organization and be embedded throughout the entire company. CEOs who have been most successful at shifting their company culture have an acute awareness of and focus on the following four key principles for successful culture change.

Watch Larry Senn describe the four principles of culture transformation



1) Purposeful leadership
  • Leaders need to have a clear, compelling purpose for the organization and themselves.
  • Leaders cast powerful, influencing shadows. They must set the example, putting the key drivers of the desired culture in place and in use.
  • The CEO must own and lead the change, not assign ownership to others.

2) Personal change

  • People need to unlock existing habits and make personal behavior change. This occurs on an emotional, not intellectual level and is best done in natural work teams to shift thinking and reinforce change.
  • People need to understand the purpose or reason their culture is being changed. They need to be clear on the “from and to” of the journey.

3) Broad engagement with energy, momentum and mass

  • The more companies focus on shifting their employee's mindsets and behavior in a desired direction, the more successful they will be.
  • A holistic, integrated process to shift behaviors, reinforce the principles, apply the learnings and measure the changes and ensure that the culture is in use should be implemented across the organization. Momentum, energy and critical mass are needed because cultures resist what they need the most.
  • An active, visible group of senior leaders and culture champions, who get the culture, do it and communicate it in actions and words will ensure the culture remains in use.
  • Organizations that ensure the front-line employees feel a sense of ownership have a 70-percent success rate in creating a transformation. When front-line employees take the initiative to drive change transformations have a 71-percent success rate. When both strategies are in place, the success rate increases to 79 percent.

4) Break through and align institutional practices

  • Institutional practices, systems and capabilities need to be in place and in use to drive the desired culture, including HR practices, communication, physical layout and others.
  • Visible application, measurable results with feedback, coaching and/or consequences are needed to make the desired culture real and create accountability.
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