The Culture Change Leader’s Secret: Consistency!

The journey to become a high performing, values aligned organization is both intense and gratifying. Senior leaders may not be aware of it, but they are both the sponsors and drivers of the organization’s current culture.

When leading a culture change initiative, scrutiny of senior leader plans, decisions, and actions increases heavily. I tell senior leaders that they’ll never be able to run a yellow light in a traffic signal in their town again! Yes, even senior leader behavior far from the workplace is scrutinized.

Here’s a great example. A client recently shared an interesting perspective about his boss, a gentleman he’d been working with for over a year. His boss – let’s call him Tom – is a fabulous champion of Blanchard’s culture change process. Tom has effectively led culture change initiatives at his last two organizations and has begun work to refine the culture of his current organization. Tom started with his senior leadership team by sharing his leadership point of view – his philosophy of leadership – and his values. He asked his direct reports to hold him accountable to those values and the valued behaviors Tom has defined.

In addition, Tom chartered his senior leadership team to refine that group’s purpose, values, behaviors, and norms to ensure everything they do helps the business grow and succeed and is consistent with their agreements.

The client’s comment unintentionally described the scrutiny Tom is under. He said, “I keep waiting for Tom to be inconsistent.” Two things are clear – Tom has really put himself on the line by declaring his values and asking his staff to hold him accountable for those values. And, for over a year, Tom hasn’t yet acted in conflict with his declared values. That’s really powerful!

Senior Leaders Must Model Declared Values

It is extremely important for senior leaders to model the desired values and valued behaviors – every day, with every interaction. Unless senior leaders embrace the new expectations, demonstrating valued behaviors, the change will not take hold – and senior leader credibility will suffer. Too often senior leaders “manage by announcements,” publishing a set of expectations or rules that they declare are to be embraced from that moment forward, yet they do not actively demonstrate those expectations themselves. No wonder leader credibility suffers in many organizations. Only when senior leaders model desired valued behaviors will the rest of the organization trust those leaders . . . follow those leaders . . . and model those desired valued behaviors themselves.

Does Your Culture Serve Customers, Employees, and Stakeholders Equally Well?

If the existing culture is not serving customers, employees, or stakeholders consistently, it may be time for a change.

Senior leaders can refine their organization’s existing culture by doing three things:

  • First, clarify performance expectations and gain employee agreement on those expectations.
  • Second, define values in behavioral terms and gain employee agreement to demonstrate those behaviors.
  • Finally, hold themselves and all organizational leaders, managers and staff accountable for both performance and values.

Most senior leaders have not experienced successful culture change. Even fewer, across the globe, have led successful culture change. When you are ready, we’re here to help.

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  • Excellent post Chris. Why is it do you think that senior leaders “manage by announcements” and don’t follow through and demonstrate behaviors to support? Is it because they are unaware that they are not following through or they don’t know how?

    Hope you are well!

    Cheers ~

    • Hey, partner – thanks for the kind note. I think most senior leaders haven’t had great role models for demonstrating consistent accountability, for either performance or valued behaviors. I think they don’t know how to do anything else than announce – their hope is that their organization will immediately act on their announcement. The senior leader’s intentions are good and pure! However, the reality is that the existing culture – norms, systems, etc. – often does not support immediate action, so nothing happens. Fascinating to observe.

      BTW, hope is NOT a sustainable strategy for senior leaders!



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