A Change Catalyst Demands A Culture Catalyst

Management suites are rife with smart executives and highly paid consultants…people who can create solid business strategies and operational plans.  When there is a need to ignite growth in existing businesses or transform current businesses by creating new categories and revenue streams, what is often required is not only a change in business direction but a people change.  However, people change in the form of reshuffling the org charts or bringing in new people from the outside is often the starting point…and it inevitably fails.

Change demands the right cultural foundation.  Many businesses today rely on outmoded 20th century people models based on command and control, hierarchical org structures, and top down directives.  These cultures are characterized by blind obedience or in some cases, informed acquiescense…whereby people follow rules and directives and are rewarded in kind.  Such cultures tend to be slow, not especially innovative (where are the rewards), and certainly not passionate.  Yet change demands a culture of transparency, of hyperconnectedness, and of passion where the intrinsic worth of one’s work trumps purely financial rewards.  This is where many smaller companies, most notably start-ips, have a major leg up on their bigger brethren in effecting change.

However, even with larger firms, one need only look at the ability to successfully execute change at Microsoft, and at Google. Google’s culture is all about passion, innovation, the intrinsic rewards of the work, transparency, connectedness, and teamwork. Leadership is self motivated and comes from everyone.  Microsoft, much as they might like to say they are the same, is a top down culture wedded to the tried and true ways of the past.  Change is slow…innovation is often plodding…and the race is won by the fleet of foot.

In times of growth challenges, the change catalyst and the culture catalyst role often falls to the CEO.  This is where the tone is set, and work environment is created, the ability to connect is fostered.  Many CMOs try to serve this change catalyst role, but if the culture is not right, the change efforts will fail.  In the end, it is all about the people.  Change and culture are inextricably wed.


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