Changing Cultures – lessons from a global expert

I have just returned from the ICF (International Coaching Federation) Australasia Coaching Conference 2013 in Sydney.

It was an opportunity to refill my executive coaching cup, rub shoulders with other industry professionals, catch up on the latest research in our ever-expanding field, and learn from key note speakers from around the world.

There were of course many inspirational speakers there, however one of the highlights was listening to Carolyn Taylor – a worldwide expert on culture and cultural change.  Carolyn was recently awarded an 0-1 US visa, which is sponsored by the Dean of Stanford University, awarded only to those who are considered to have risen to the top of their field globally.

In addition to a portfolio of clients who read like the ‘who’s who’ of leading organisations in their field, Carolyn is also the author of the book Walking the Talk: Building a Culture for Success (Random House, 2005), which was described by Strategic HR Review as “the most detailed, practical and readable book on how to change organisational culture”.

I really like her simple definition of organisational culture – “the patterns of behaviour that are encouraged and discouraged, by people and systems, over time”.

What are the patterns of behaviour encouraged within your organisation?

What are the patterns of behaviour which are discouraged?

What are the key messages you are sending as a leader – by what you do and what you say?

Often what we see happening (particularly in regards to symbols and beliefs) are not necessarily what is condoned on paper – or, “above the line”.

If you have ever been charged with leading change within an organisation, particularly change that requires a cultural shift (such as moving towards an achievement culture), you will know it can be a complex and challenging process.

I highly recommend Walk The Talk, but here is just a small (and humorous) snippet from her presentation which demonstrates how a small few can be so pivotal in changing the behaviours of others. It’s a wonderful demonstration of what cultural change is all about, so please watch this (it’s only three minutes long)!

Carolyn Taylor YouTube - The Leader's Digest

It’s the first follower who transforms a lone nut into a leader.

Carolyn asked us:

  • Who is your 1st guy, 2nd guy and 3rd guy in your organisation?  Identify them and support them.
  • Secondly, notice that the only thing those people at the concert needed to do was to stand up and wave their arms and legs around.  Pretty simple, huh.  The lesson? Keep your change and messages simple and resist the temptation to target too many changes –  three at most, ideally one or two at a time.
  • Finally, keep a look out for your “number threes” in your organisation – they are those people who are open to change and who ‘normalise’ the actions of the first two.

You don’t need everyone on board to get momentum.  The tipping point in driving a cultural change programme comes when enough people (35% according to McKinsey) feel uncomfortable unless they too stand up and dance.  They do not need to know why or buy into it necessarily. They simply need to feel uncomfortable unless they join in and stand up and dance.

As in the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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