Three Keys to Culture Transformation

January 30, 2014

Diana Rivenburgh

by Diana Rivenburgh

[Guest Blog Post]

What causes cultures to run amok? Why do people do things they never thought they would? Perhaps the most important question is “what can we do to create ethical, high-performance, engaged cultures?”

Simply scan the daily headlines to find evidence of dysfunctional cultures:

“Pfizer caught running global bribery network,”

“JP Morgan Chase Will Pay $13 Billion in Record Settlement,”

“Cheating Probe Roils Philadelphia Schools.”

What causes cultures to run amok? Why do people do things they never thought they would? Perhaps the most important question is “what can we do to create ethical, high-performance, engaged cultures?”

Toxic Cultures

While there’s no lack of examples of toxic cultures, there are many organizations where people love their work, go above and beyond, strive for innovation and collaborate for greater results. Culture does more than create a great place to work.

Research over several decades from Denison Consulting and others clearly shows the correlation between culture and every financial and productivity measure you can think of.

Three keys for culture transformation

Whether you seek to create the culture for your new firm or change an existing one, focus your efforts on three keys for culture transformation – lead, engage and align.

Lead: Toxic leaders create toxic cultures. Vibrant leaders create vibrant cultures. Culture begins to form from the very beginning based on the founder’s vision, values and style, and continues to evolve as new leaders join.

Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz held faithfully to the company’s values even when, in 2008, the company’s stock price dropped 52% and its fourth quarter earnings were down 97%. Shultz firmly believes that making money and raising stock prices are shallow goals unless they are linked to creating value for society and people. This commitment paid off as the company’s stock percolated up to record earnings.

Engage: Engaged employees bring their best to work every day, go above and beyond, invest extra time and effort, and find ways to continuously improve and innovate. Organizations with highly engaged workforces identify individual strengths, place people in roles that fit these strengths, develop strong leaders and managers and create the right work environment for success.

Novo Nordisk, the world’s leading provider of insulin, recognizes the value of culture and employee engagement to its business success. This Danish-based pharmaceutical company audits employee engagement every year and requires all its managers to have engagement plans in place. Managers work with employees to identify strengths and set them up for success by placing them in roles where they can tap into these assets.

Align: Every organization operates with management systems comprised of processes, policies and practices for hiring, training, performance management, communication, compensation and governance. All of these as well as its organizational structure and workspace design must align to achieve the desired culture.

A client of ours was dealing with chaos and frustration after going through multiple acquisitions. Identifying and changing many of their systems, practices and structures to align to their strategy and desired culture resulted in stronger collaboration, higher engagement, improved client satisfaction and greater profitability.

Take a look at your organization to determine the ways you can lead better, engage your people, and align your management practices to achieve the high performance culture needed to realize your company’s vision and achieve its strategic goals.

The author

Diana Rivenburgh @sustainableorgs is a consultant, speaker, recovering corporate executive, and author of The New Corporate Facts of Life and is a Top 100 Thought Leader for Trustworthy Business 2014.

“Why don’t I ever post comments to this site?” Let’s be having you

January 28, 2014

Delia Smith

Delia Smith

“Why don’t I ever post comments to this site ?” asked Louise? “I read it regularly. I’ve even ‘liked’ some of the blogs.”

A good question. Louise teaches leadership on courses around the world. So why doesn’t she contribute comments?

“You don’t get many comments at all.”

It’s a fair point. I mumbled something about maybe readers are a bit embarrassed to post comments for some reason. Maybe my students don’t want to risk looking foolish? But Louise isn’t a student.

“Perhaps” added Louise “you can ask a question at the end of a post to encourage comments”.

Me: “I have to think about how to do that. Maybe I need to work on it” [was I being defensive?]”

So I thought a bit about the idea and came up with a question which may be the sort of thing Louise had in mind.

The question inviting comments

So here’s a question for readers. I know you are out there, at least visiting Leaders We Deserve, even if you don’t comment. Do you have any suggestions to add to Louise’s which you would like to contribute? Why not write a comment? I read them all, and try to comment back. Don’t worry if you think your English is not good enough. Our readership comes from over 180 countries, and there is editorial help if needed. I look forward to reading your suggestions.

And after commenting, how about writing a post?

Maybe it’s one short comment for Louise and one big step towards publishing a blog post. As the national treasure Delia Smith once said, appealing to her [football] supporters “Come on, let’s be having you’. Students are particularly welcomed.

Tudor Rickards
Editor, Leaders We Deserve

Sherlock Holmes series on BBC TV illustrates charismatic infatuation

January 26, 2014

The recent Sherlock Holmes series on BBC Television was launched in a sustained and skillful blaze of publicity. Its impact suggests an explanation of charismatic influence

The advertising hype created a teaser over the apparent death of Sherlock at the end of the first series two years earlier. The character in the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories survived a fall. The viewers were now invited to explain the survival of the Sherlock as played by Benedict Cumberbatch

The Holmes Watson relationship

Two themes dominated the first of the three episodes. The first was How did Sherlock survive the fall from a high building? The second was the intense homoerotic nature of the Holmes Watson relationship.

The Marmite factor

The reaction of viewers to all episodes was intense. The reviews released a quite astonishing emotional outpouring of replies. Fans demonstrated the so called Marmite effect [you love it or loath it, with little cool or rational reactions displayed] Nearly a thousand comments appeared hours after the Guardian review.

For the first two episodes reviewers tended to be rather lukewarm towards the production, acknowledging outstanding elements of acting and plot but rather unsatisfactory coherence and more than a whiff of smug self-indulgence. The third was widely regarded as by far the most dramatic and compelling to watch.

The infatuation effect

As evidenced by the thousand comments [of the first two and more unsatisfactory episodes for the critics], a sizable proportion of fans were infatuated by the mega-star of the series, Holmes played by Benedict Cumberbatch. For this group, the overwhelming emotion was unconditional expressions of love, coupled with anger at those who expressed any signs of disappointment in the production.

Is this a clue to the nature of charismatic leadership?

Possibly. At least there is a suggestion of a line of research into followership and charisma. The vulnerability induced in followers by the charismatic leader could be studied through investigation of the concept of celebrity infatuation.

Berdych beats Ferrer: Injustice as a spur to change

January 21, 2014

Injustice as a tipping point? Berdych v Ferrer.

I remain unconvinced about the tipping point theory of change. An incident in a tennis match, however, appears to give the theory supporting evidence.

Thomas Berdych and Ferrer were playing for a place in the semi-finals at the Australian Open [21 January, 2014] Ferrer was out of sorts, Berdych playing at his best. Ferrer, the higher ranked player, is noted for his tenacity, Berdych for his power.

Berdych sweeps to a two set lead, then Ferrer ups his game, Berdych dips. Ferrer improves and wins third set.

Commentators see that ‘momentum has swung’ to Ferrer. [Another dubious concept but also another blog post.]

The tipping point?

The tipping point occurred when Berdych was given a code violation for slow play. His resigned attitude seemed to change. He played more aggressively and became competitive. Breaks and retains advantage at 5-3

Conclusion. One episode supporting tipping point theory.

Lord McAlpine, (1942-2014) colourful politician and author of books including The New Machiavelli

January 18, 2014

Lord McAlpine was a successful businessman turned conservative Politician and political author of fiction and non-fiction including a book on The New Machiavelli. He attracted controversy for a somewhat individualistic lifestyle and successfully defended himself in 2012 against allegations in the media.

You can read more in an earlier post

Murray breaks back in the non-medical sense

January 18, 2014

Broken RacquetA TV transmission from the Australian Open in Melbourne illustrates an important issue for effective team work, as two commentators exhibit group think and mutually reinforcing mind sets

The match took place in round three [January 18th 2014] and involved Scotland’s Andy Murray and Spain’s Feliciano Lopez. UK viewers were following the fortunes of the Wimbledon champion Murray who had recently returned from back surgery.

Even before the match started, the two commentators from UK Eurosport appeared preoccupied by the possibility that Murray would be feeling the after effects of the injury. I decided to keep notes to see whether their suspicions would turn out to be justified.

Game one. Murray drops serve and touches his leg as if in pain. Murray has tended to do this throughout his career. However it induces an outburst of commentator anxiety 0-1

Game two: more injury signs detected. Commentators even more anxious. Murray breaks back. Just realized that I must explain what I mean. Murray has not broken his back, but equalizes by breaking serve. 1-1

Game three. Injury talk continues to dominate, although Murray wins serve 2-1

Game four. Easy Lopez hold. Murray makes errors each accompanied by explanations of
poor execution because of injury. 2-2

Game five. Mix of poor and good Murray Shots. Crowd v quiet. A stretch for a ball at the net looks laboured and
suggests commentators may be right. Murray looks out of sorts. Wins but Looks up at coach a lot during change over. 3-2

Game six. Commentators distracted by news of other matches. Both players up game. Lopez holds serve. Slightly less injury talk. 3-3

Game seven. I’d say it is a typical scratchy Murray match when he is not quite on song. Holds serve. 4-3

Game eight. Quick win for Lopez. 4-4

Game nine. Murray serve also powerful. 5-4. Commentators have calmed down slightly.

Game ten. Slightly patcher. Murray return length high quality persists. Lopez wins. 5-5

Game eleven. Murray comfortable at 40 love and wins. I think tiebreak coming up 6-5.
At changeover so does commentary theme.

Game twelve. Tight points. Murray stretch at net works well. Lopez errs to set point but then aces. Survives. 6-6

Tie break. No sign of back problem says commentator. Murray ups game. Wins. “Looks as if he’s stopped [his] preoccupation with his back”. Think it’s not Murray with the preoccupation7-6

Second set

The commentators are again agreeing totally. But their shared perception has now shifted. After an early service break by Murray they agree this match is now be one-sided. I began to develop a theory of team mind-set. Murray wins easily. 6-4

Third set

Even easier for Murray who extends his record of wins over Lopez to eight. 6-2


Murray in his post-match interview denied he had problems beyond what was to be expected after recent surgery. The commentators during the match were united in a different mindset. This was eventually dispelled. Their initial narrow focus ignored important information about court conditions, and temperature, players’ head on head records, even time of day for European viewers.

I felt that they needed to make more effort to be aware of the assumption that was dominated their thinking. This is common enough. A newer thought occurred to me. Maybe the two commentators were in a comfort zone reinforced by mutual agreement on their shared ‘map’ or basic assumption. This is a possibility for explaining the persistence of beliefs in face of contrary evidence.

If so, we have a nice example of the importance of creative and constructive challenge for effective group work. Otherwise groupthink will become increasingly inhibiting.

A Blog is Born: Advice to a new blogger

January 10, 2014

Tudor Rickards

You have started a business course and you have to write a blog post based on a current news story. Here’s one approach based on experiences of writing and publishing over a thousand such posts

I write two leadership blog posts each week for Leaders we deserve. In six years, I have never failed to find suitable news stories. Here are some tips which have worked for me as I clocked up over a thousand posts for Leaders We Deserve.

The Mapping principle

I think of what I am doing as map reading, map testing and map making. You can find a lot of posts if you search for map making on this Leaders we deserve site. A fuller explanation is to be found in Chapter 1 of Dilemmas of Leadership.

Map reading refers to your examination of the primary source or sources of your news story.
Map testing is when you look more carefully at the news story to assess its credibility. That is why looking at more than one source of the same story is valuable. Here I like to use my imagination by trying to guess the most urgent dilemmas facing key decision makers.
Map making is ‘getting personal’ by relating the news stories to your own experiences. If you understand the post you can change that map and comment on what you have done. Even more important, you may have made some change to your own personally important knowledge. For example, a story may show you a new interpretation about a piece of information or of your belief. The map making refers to changes in your maps or to your version of the original news story.

Here is a post with a three minute test with ten questions. You can take it to test your understanding of the mapping principle.

Active search

Each day I search actively for a breaking news story which has an easy to understand main point often expressed in its headline. If I see such a story with a leadership implication. I become more interested, and test if it is attracting social media interest on Twitter.

Writing your post

Stage one is reporting your map reading in your own words.I cut and paste the core of the story, always with the source acknowledged, I hope. However, if you are working on a student assignment, check with your tutors and with examination regulations if you are worried about word limits, citation style, and acceptability of cut and paste efforts.

Beyond factual reporting and IMHO

The post becomes more interesting and will gain more approval and ‘likes’, even from examiners, if you add something new. Map-testing is one way. Introducing interpretations or personal judgement is fine, but make sure you indicate that you are not mixing beliefs with assertion of accepted facts. On the Internet this is still sometimes signaled by IMHO which stands for In My Humble Opinion.

An example

This week I carried out my active searches as usual. On Monday [January 6th 2014] I reported on on typical story about the future of Hollywood blockbusters. You can read it as an example of my mapping approach. My map reading showed the debate about the future of blockbusting films in face of new technology. My map testing suggested to be that there was plenty of evidence to suggest that Hollywood faced dilemmas of escalating costs of movie making and risks of trying out original story lines.

Map-making suggested that I had seen something similar in a quite different context, namely in the pharmaceutical industry, and this gave me a hook for the story. Maybe leaders in Big Pharma face similar dilemmas to those facing movie makers. The old models are failing: should they work harder to fix them or change to new business models? Can they risk the company on one or two as yet undiscovered innovations?


If you want to try out this system, to help you write a blog, start today. Look at the breaking news stories. Try to capture their core point or headline. Test the assertions in the reported stories. Look for tough decisions or dilemmas facing leaders. See if the process links with your personal beliefs, the O in IMHO.

And revise thoroughly

And for most people, thorough revision pays off.

Good luck in your future blogging.