Culture Change: A Process, Not an Event
Culture improvement plans are challenging and do not take effect overnight. However, by setting an expectation of “progress, not perfection” and with the active, sincere support of senior leadership (and most importantly, the CEO), the effects of the culture change process will begin to be felt throughout the organization and very quickly. The key to sustainable culture change is to seize the early momentum and to commit to the long-term nature of the process.
Commitment to culture change begins at the highest levels of the organization but it does not rest there. While leadership will set the tone by stressing their support for the effort, the real impact will be made at the supervisory/managerial level.
“Who’s Got the Monkey?”, a classic Harvard Business Review article (authored by William Oncken and Donald L.Wass and reprinted regularly due to its popularity) uses the analogy of, “the monkey on your back,” to talk about the subject of time management, and how we handle the way employees pass off responsibilities, aka “the monkey,” to leaders. The organizational challenge of upward delegation frustrates managers and senior executives while simultaneously limiting the growth and development of team members by enabling them to defer decision-making and even basic job responsibilities to the “higher ups.”
This phenomenon underscores the need for basic skills development for supervisors and managers and for leaders who must develop the ability (and the patience) to allow their reports to identify options and make, or at the very least, recommend decisions.
Further evidence of the need to strengthen the leadership skills of managers and supervisors was found during a recent senior leadership planning retreat. Team members were asked to respond to the following question: “I could do my job better if I didn’t have to...”. Here are some of the responses:
“Get involved in the weeds”
“Focus on lower-level issues”
“Follow-up on others’ incomplete work”
At the conclusion of this exercise, the senior team quickly came to the realization that they were enabling this behavior by capitulating and allowing “the monkey” to be put on their backs.
As managers/supervisors develop their leadership skills and abilities, decision-making, workflow, processes, practices, and procedures move seamlessly. Since more of the work (including real-time challenges, changes, and adjustments) is being done at this level, the senior team will feel themselves pulled into these issues less and less, freeing up time to focus on the strategic direction of the organization. One of the best ways to begin developing these needed skills is to assign this group with helping to improve the organization’s culture. This starts with measurement, identifying goals for improvement, establishing a plan and putting resources toward that plan.
For more information on ways to move your organization forward through leadership development and culture change, contact me at email@example.com.
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.