A Case Study on Organisation Culture’s Impact on Transformation
The Case for Change
The following are paraphrased from client interactions:
"It is with deep regret that I announce that John is leaving us, a real loss to our organisation, especially with the departure of several of our senior leaders recently. We cannot afford to lose this talent, experience and diversity of views if we aspire to be a great place to work and to do great business. We need to move away from having a ‘closed’ mindset, embrace change, and different ideas and ways of doing things. My commitment is to lead this Culture Change."
- CEO’s message to members of the Senior Leadership Team, XYZ Co.
"I am speaking to you with a positive purpose in mind. I believe that by talking about people’s negative experiences and hearing each other’s perspectives, a company's strength is better forged. I urge all to reflect on behaviours and cultural norms. Reflect deeply and act."
- Excerpts from John’s parting message to Senior Leaders (peers) in the same organisation
The departure of these talented and experienced leaders is one of the negative consequences that people experience with the dysfunctional culture in the organisation. For existing staff, frustrations exist in terms of ‘the way they work’, particularly the negative behaviours of:
Silo-mentality: fighting for / duplicating resources; non-sharing of information,
Blame: focusing on who is at fault,
Bureaucracy: excessive emphasis on SOPs and control, even when situation calls for flexibility in approach,
Lack of clarity and alignment: in strategy, plans and commitments,
Empire-building / Ego: putting emphasis on self over organisation interest, and
Lack of psychological safety: being afraid or unwilling to voice out, try new things and hold each other accountable to commitments impacting organisation outcomes.
aAdvantage’s Point of View and Approach on Organisation Transformation
"Organisation transformation begins with Leadership transformation"
The culture of an organisation is shaped by the values and beliefs collectively held by its leaders. These values and beliefs show up in the leadership behaviours, either positively or negatively. When these behaviours are ‘embraced’ and ‘accepted’ by the rest of the organisation, it becomes the culture or ‘the way we work’. The values, beliefs and behaviours that are now held by the rest of the organisation will either promote or inhibit the organisation in navigating the unknown and making the right decisions, eventually impacting transformation outcomes.
Beginning with the Senior Leadership Team ("SLT")
With the above in mind, the following interventions were introduced to enable the SLT members to:
listen to each other’s perspectives and respectfully acknowledge individual and team vulnerabilities,
recognise the impact of these vulnerabilities on transformation outcomes,
establish positive conflict on things that matter; identify and align on what is common and different,
commit to actions and hold one another accountable (not blame) to such commitments and win as ONE.
Intervention Outcomes and Next Steps
Before the 2-Day “Unpack & Repack” SLT Workshop
The highlight of these interventions was no doubt the 2-Day “Unpack & Repack” SLT Workshop. Prior to the conduct of the session, during the 1-to-1 individual leaders check-in, leaders were prompted on their thoughts about the upcoming dialogue on their team leadership and culture. Many of them expressed reservations and cynicism as such:
"I don’t think people will be honest and open."
"We have done this before, it doesn’t work."
"There’s nothing wrong, I work very well with everyone."
"The issues are very sensitive, and some will bulldoze their views, I’m not confident they will hear me out."
"We will end up with the same old issues but with no resolution, or commitment to resolve. Another frustrating exercise."
After the 2-Day “Unpack & Repack” SLT Workshop
Selected key reflections and take-aways at the session end:
"I always saw him as self-serving and building his own empire; today I see a different side of him, and truly, I am willing to move ahead and continue our dialogue…"
"Be more collaborative at SLT level – not controlling or divisive…commit to the established Team Rules of Engagement; hold one another accountable to these behaviours."
"I commit to XYZ as a whole, beyond my functional domain. I will communicate and contribute more in terms of conflict areas, information cascading to team, and sharing team’s accomplishments with SLT…"
"In the past, I thought I was contributing as SLT member so long as I manage my function well. I commit to delegate and empower my (functional) team more. This will free up my time to contribute at SLT level…"
"I recognise that I tend to avoid conflict in the past and would set off on 1-to-1 conversations with the CEO after a team decision is made. I commit now to speak up during our team meetings, even though it might not be an area of my domain expertise…"
"Whilst there was a strategy session held in the past year, there were varying levels of commitment to see it through as some of us (including myself) were not in agreement with the strategy and proposed structure that accompanied it. We need to refresh our strategy and discuss structure and role expectations in our next session…Given what I see and hear over the 2 days, I’m in!"
There was a significant positive change in mindset and beliefs about one another and a renewed commitment to navigate as one leadership team. One could now sense the conviction as they talked about the need to align the rest of the organisation, built on the foundation of vulnerability-based trust.
The Five Behaviors Model
With SLT’s commitment to Transformation and Culture Development, they then decided to focus their attention on Management Alignment.
The Whole System Approach
Indeed, the next SLT session was planned 10 days after the first. This time, aAdvantage continued to partner XYZ Co. to focus on creating clarity and alignment on:
The Why and What of the Organisation: Purpose, Corporate Strategy and Success Outcomes
The SLT Charter: What the SLT does that cannot be accomplished by any other set of people and success metrics
The Desired Organisation Structure
Role Expectations of CEO, BU and Corp Function Heads
Team Decisions to be reviewed at SLT level
Team Processes for Conflict Management, Decision Making and Organisation-wide Communications
There is still much to be done. The journey of transformation has truly begun and is fast accelerating. The emphasis of the next stage is to communicate and engage the rest of organisation on what was deliberated and enable them to navigate the change together. A significant part of successful transformation will hinge on SLT’s ability to establish an environment of vulnerability-based trust, whereby people throughout the organisation feel safe to voice and try new ideas, engage in positive conflict, keep to their commitments, and hold one another accountable to organisation outcomes.
Is Your Leadership Team prepared for
Transformation, Digital or Otherwise?
Vincent Ho, Director, aAdvantage Consulting
Vincent Ho is the Co-owner & Director of aAdvantage Consulting Group, a boutique firm "Partnering You in Organisational Growth through Culture Transformation".
He has 25 years of business advisory and coaching experience and focuses on organisation transformation, customer experience, leadership team and culture development, senior leadership team coaching and change management.
His motivations are driven by his core values of Respect, Humility and Collaboration.