CEOs Rank Culture as #1 Priority for Success

By in Culture, Insights, and Leadership
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Culture is front and center for leaders who want to increase performance and strategic alignment in 2017.

“Culture is the X-factor,” said Noah Rabinowitz, senior partner and global head of Hay Group’s Leadership Development Practice. “It’s the invisible glue that holds an organization together and ultimately makes the difference between whether an organization is able to succeed in the market or not.”

These are the findings of an extensive global study by the Hay Group division of Korn Ferry, which found that ‘driving culture change’ ranks among the top three global leadership development priorities, and suggests that leaders need to make culture change a more significant aspect of their development programs and overall leadership agenda.

Culture is the Lifeblood of an Organization

Culture reflects the values, beliefs, and behaviors that determine how employees perform and interact with each other every day.

Leadership development can play a vital role in helping to accelerate, reinforce and sustain culture, and culture is definitely born in the executive suite – when leaders change their behaviors, others do too. It’s leaders who need to define the culture, communicate it to all organizational levels, and act and behave in ways that reflect and reinforce their desired outcomes.

Arvinder Dhesi, a Hay Group senior client partner, stated “we believe that talent, leadership and culture are intrinsically linked, and they are crucial to strategic execution. It’s a mistake for leaders to believe that culture is somehow separate from themselves or a separate project. Everything that leaders do contributes to the culture. There’s no culture-neutral behavior.”

To assist leaders in culture-building, the study offers these helpful data points:

  • Organizational alignment and collaboration was considered the primary driver to improve culture
  • Communications was the most used strategy to improve culture, followed by leadership development and embedding culture change in management objectives

Creating a Cultural Foundation

Korn Ferry’s Four Pillars of Leadership Development provide a further framework to instill behaviors and values foundational to support an existing or desired new culture.

  1. Context is critical: Development work must be connected to the organization’s current issues and strategies. Development needs are very different if an organization is working through a merger versus changing a corporate strategy or transitioning to a new CEO. 
  1. Develop the whole person: To maximize leadership potential, organizations must match individual strengths and motivations to organizational needs, and development must align the employees’s values, beliefs, and personality to the new culture.
  1. Treat leadership development as a journey: The plan should have a story line and an arc that consists of a variety of development experiences strung together in a compelling way, making employees feel they’re on a journey with a beginning, middle and end.
  1. Service promotes purpose: To tap into deeper levels of motivation, employees must feel they’re contributing to something meaningful. This starts with the leader articulating a mission that defines the value it creates for the customers it serves. In turn, the organization’s mission is perpetuated by purpose-driven leaders who demonstrate authentic leadership with their teams. By linking elements of culture change with an organization’s mission and connecting that to an individual leader’s purpose, companies can develop stronger advocates for change.
By michelle m. smith, CPIM, CRP
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Comments (9)

I strongly belive that yur point number 2 is impossible to do. You CAN NOT change a persons believes or values – and defenitely not his personality. That is just bogus. Neither can you adapt the culture of a (medium sized or large) company by some communication means.
You ca adapt them over time, starting from the top and developing all layers of management slowly to either embrace it or leave. No way that an extenal force can change employees…
– Agree to new behavior
– rigorously follow that yourself and keep reminding all others to follow it as well
– let them feel the benefits of th new agreed behavior (and the consequences of not doing so) consistntly over time
and then you will get a new culture… in 10 or 20 years

January 4, 2017   |   Reply
David Bracken

Culture is indeed determined by what leaders do and reward/tolerate, and your “journey” method is great. That said, I don’t know a better way to define the culture than by using behavioral definitions of the values that can then be measured and used to create accountability other then 360 feedback tied to performance management. Does anyone know of a better way?

January 4, 2017   |   Reply
Kathleen Paris

Thanks for highlighting organizational culture as the key to performance! I have one question regarding “Treat leadership development as a journey [I am with you here]…making employees feel there is a beginning, middle and end.” I personally don’t think the leadership journey has an end. It’s a continual process of learning and re-learning. Do you believe that there is an end-point?

January 4, 2017   |   Reply

I totally agree with you. You can’t change a person’s values, beliefs and personality. Sometimes you are able to “open their perspectives” and views and increase their level of tolerance of differences–but I also believe that when you “clock in” to work for a company or a school, you make a conscious decision to join them–they did not join you and so you are expected to be aligned to the values and beliefs that results in your paycheck. Too many employees think they can come into an organization and impose their values and beliefs–and I think that is one of the problems we have. As a former leader of schools, where equity and social justice are at the forefront of all the work–I strived to ensure that while an employee was on the clock their values beliefs and behavior were in alignment with what they had agreed to when they first entered the building and I would hold them accountable. I believe that too many organizations do not spend the time “incorporating” people into the values and beliefs of the organization–when people are not reminded through the daily practices of the organization about the vision mission and expectations people create their own “reality”. What a person believes, values outside of the organization is none of our business, but while you are drawing your paycheck from the organization you will leave your own personal biases and beliefs at the door– we expect that when it comes to our religious beliefs, why not expect the same when it comes to your personal beliefs and values.

January 5, 2017   |   Reply
Hal Schlenger

One’s personal beliefs create their values, and then trust in your leadership. Discuss the source, applicability and relevance of their beliefs to possible update their values. For more, read Randy Ross wrote a great, concise, book.

January 5, 2017   |   Reply
J Adlakha

Quite interesting and makes it clear that for overall effectiveness of organisation one should focus more on cultural aspects as compared to individual training needs

January 7, 2017   |   Reply
Kevin K

I agree you can’t change someone’s personal values, beliefs, and personality, but you can make sure the talent you hire and retain has the values, beliefs, and personality that align with the culture you are trying to create. If someone is not aligned with your culture — you aren’t going to get there.

When I read the author’s requirement to develop the whole person and have alignment of values and beliefs, I don’t read this to mean that everyone needs to share the same worldview or theological perspectives. If everyone has identical personalities, the organization will lack and starve for diversity of thought and ideas. And the organization with struggle to understand the perspectives of their customers (or those they serve), innovate, and create future opportunities.

Bottom line … I think it’s a good article and on point. The comments and perspectives of those weighing in enrich the learning :-)

January 12, 2017   |   Reply
Talk to Bjorn

I couldn’t agree more. Culture isn’t something that is designed and rolled out. The desired culture is defined and achieved through aligned c-level executives acting to a set of values that come naturally (not through design) and are followed consistently. If these behaviors are reflected in talent management and recruitment the odds are good that this culture is spread into the organization.

January 18, 2017   |   Reply
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