JOHN LODDER: How to lead and implement fast changes in your company culture

Change is all around us in a much faster pace as ever before and nobody can predict how businesses and markets will look like say 3 years from now.

‘Predicting is difficult, especially if it is about the future’ (Mark Twain)

You can look at trends, follow them, analyse them and try to respond pro-active.

That is not a guaranty for success because this is usually done by a small group of top managers who are (too) far away from the people they are leading and who know best about what your customers think of your company. Your employees talk and deal with your customers every day!

About e.g. ‘What makes your customers satisfied? What are their complaints? What do they expect from you? How to improve the quality of your services, products and internal processes? etc.

Just some changes that will certainly affect your business soon
Internet of things

Not only people and social media, also machines will be connected with each other. Predictions are connections between 26 to 200 billion machines that exchange data and work together in the year 2020.

Reversed chains
The consumer will have the power; they will determine and ‘create’ the market, not the producer anymore.

All trends show an increasing power of the customer
The customer pays and determines, based on the increasing information (s)he has and on the increasing and competitive offers in the market which is available for him/her 24/7.

High engagement of consumers leads to ‘pro-sumers’, who contribute actively to the innovation and development of a product, brand or a company…of their choice!!

There are different ways management can respond to change

You can respond to change e.g. by ignoring it or by hoping a solution will come by itself or from a Government. Actually these are very ineffective strategies but still often used, mostly because management has no clue how to respond, and when they do they are too late.

Companies like Nokia, Kodak and Blackberry are examples of this ‘strategy’ and are gone now. Companies like Lego, General Electric and Apple are examples of companies that were nearly bankrupt but just in time managed to change their culture and survived, even became very successful again. What can you learn from them?

Although it is difficult, the most effective approach to change is to transform your own leadership style before you ask your employees to change their behaviour.

You could hire a coach to help you in such a process which is fortunately happening more and more. It takes some courage of course, you have to get over your pride but then your world will look bright and full of opportunities. And this will have a positive impact on your company culture and on your people. An old saying is: ‘Like water always runs down, so does the behaviour of top management’.

Bad or good management behaviour, employees see it and it is always copied downward into your organisation.

Agile Management

For a company to get ready for the (near) future it is necessary to become ‘agile’.

Agility means that an organisation has qualities like having focus and power, being alert, fast, precise, lean and flexible and has open communication at and between all levels of the organisation.

These qualities determine the skills of a company to anticipate and adjust fast to future changes. Agile management is the way to realise that and is based on the following eight principles. (Based on HCG)

  1. Create value by simplicity and quality of (re)new(ed) products and services for internal and external customers; you offer relevant and working solutions that are lean produced.
  2. Understand the customer to create value for him/her; using the voice of the customer to be able to continuously analyse her/his wishes, needs and behaviour.
  3. Alignment of all employees involved from all relevant departments: by cooperating in multi-disciplinary teams on óne common goal, the focus will really be on the customer.
  4. Empowerment of teams by providing the begin-to-end responsibility and taking away obstacles: giving trust facilitates their autonomous self-organisation.
  5. Synchronised and visual communication: team members work physically together in their own space and communicate, co-create and plan in a workshop format together. 
  6. Learning from experiments by practising the ‘Think-Do-Learn-Act cycle’; they work with hypothesis, measurements, analysis and evaluations where failure is a calculated risk and team members can feel safe.
  7. Speed and flexibility in the planning by working with short iterations: the team executes improvements in a pull-stream by prioritising on value and effort.
  8. Accountability for all activities; after each iteration efforts and results are evaluated in a transparent way for continuous learning and by this to improve future performances.

Changing your company culture

Countless organisations formulated a strategy but ‘less than 10 percent of strategies that were effectively formulated…..were effectively executed.’ (Fortune Magazine)

Research (Kaplan & Norton) showed that less than 10% of employees understand the strategy of their company and do not know how they could contribute to it.

Knowing that a good execution of a strategy often means success or surviving of a company, an important question is: How do you get your employees’ commitment?

As with every change, all your employees have to be enabled to accept and commit to a new strategy, because nobody but your employees can execute and implement your (new) strategy.

Creating an Agile culture

A few steps to create an Agile (or new) culture:

Involve all your employees
In a direct or indirect way make sure that your people feel engaged and involved in the process that leads to a new strategy. There are a few ‘strength based methods’ to realise this in a relative short time and the results are always positive and effective.

Create engaged employees
A Gallup study showed that only 37% of employees worldwide were engaged to their work, in CEE-countries this was only 12%. People must have the intrinsic motivation to work for you and they need to be proud of the company they work for.

This is one of the most important, basic tasks and assignments for management to realise.

How to transfer your ambitions
An effective commercial advertising campaign requires repeated communicating your message through different media. The same goes for a new strategy.

Managers have to regularly communicate about (actual parts) of the new strategy. They have to check and monitor if employees are still understanding and executing your strategy. A simple questionnaire for instance can identify weak points where management has to pay extra attention to.

How to communicate
Many organisations do not communicate with their employees about the (new) strategy.

If they do it is usually top-down communication and the information is a monologue.

Regular communication, managers in dialogue with employees, about ambition and goals of the organisation, are necessary for a mutual understanding of ‘where do we stand today?’ Managers should also activate people by asking for feed-back, ideas and suggestions. But also ask questions like e.g.: ‘How will you contribute to our ambition?’ ‘What improvements can you realise in your tasks?’

Possible ambitions and the consequences for a leadership approach

  • We want our employees to know what is going on, so uncertainties that are inherent to every change process are limited. This means: communicate at all possible levels and with all available means. In time and open communication. Communication means making sure that every manager knows what we are doing and why, and, especially that managers talk about this with their people.
  • We want that our employees commit themselves maximal to the change process; we want a maximum engagement of the people on the shop floor. Then we have to involve our employees maximal in the change process and listen to what they have to say. From their position they probably cannot see the whole process – for that you have managers – but they do know how they can improve processes in their own tasks; and that they definitely know better than the average manager or consultant.
  • We want to be crystal clear. Giving maximum clarity about what we expect from our people and what not. Be very clear about what can be discussed and what cannot be discussed. Nothing is more frustrating than letting people discuss and talk about issues they cannot change. So communicate the playground and playing rules very clear and stick to that.
  • We want independent employees. Employees who, based on their expertise, see the responsibilities in their own job position, feel them and execute them pro-actively. Then we have to give the employees the space and tools to be able to do that. However, the employee has also to think for himself about his problems and possibilities and, based on that, come up with ideas and suggestions. The manager is coach and facilitator.
  • We want proactive, risk taking and market oriented behaviour from our employees.
    Then managers have to show the good examples by their behaviour and not be afraid to stick out their neck and take calculated risks. Employees do not pay attention to what the manager says, but at what the manager does and shows in practice.
  • We want to be a ‘learning organisation’.
    Then we must create the space and possibilities to learn. This is an on-going process where people are allowed to experiment, to try something different, and we should not be afraid if sometimes something goes wrong. Do not punish people for making mistakes, making mistakes is the most effective way to learn.


John Lodder  MA., MSc.



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