Why do (too) many organizational culture-change efforts fail to gain traction and sustainable results? A cultural change may be the most elusive visionary objective for leaders to achieve and sustain. Perhaps this is one reason why many companies miss the mark when trying to execute. They likely conclude that a vibrant culture is an elusive ‘nice-to-have’ ideal versus an essential to business success. Effective change management begins and ends with a strong, symphonic C- suite leadership team.
To better understand ways to improve upon this, let’s look at the primary drivers behind the majority of failed efforts.
Research identifies five primary debilitating factors:
- Lack of Vision – senior leadership is unclear of future direction requirements
- Self-Interest – power plays trump what’s best for the business
- Poor Communication – clear, frequent, transparent and honest communication
- Bureaucracy – outdated policies & procedures that block change. Fragmented culture
- Skill/Behavior Gap – lack of skills and behavioral attributes needed to implement
Change management is an integral component of every successful business. While organizations may feel secure and comfortable maintaining outdated systems and dynamics, it is clear that they’re paying a hefty price: high employee turnover, loss of key customers, reduced market-share and diminished shareholder value – and more.
Fluctuating business factors, such as culture, technology, and globalization demand new and creative business solutions. Status quo, at best, produces adequate results and at worst, sub-par outcomes from which the business may not recover. To respond to today’s complex issues, far-reaching contemporary solutions from the highest impact levels of an organization are necessary.
The C-suite refers to specialized experts who occupy the top positions of leadership in a company. Their titles typically contain the word “Chief”, hence the label C-suite. As these executives face an ever-evolving agile marketplace, new leadership competencies are required to develop competitive strategies. If we explore history, we find that the need for C-level change is as old as business itself.
In the early stages of American industry, the C-suite could more accurately have been called the C-room-for-one, because a singular CEO typically made all the major decisions for a given company. This financially-minded head honcho would assemble a small team of general managers who held roles of importance and influence. This made for a strong, highly centralized style of leadership. This model relied heavily on authoritarianism and proved effective for nearly six decades.
As industry standards diversified in the 1980’s, general managers began to phase out in favor of more specialized leaders; giving birth to the true C-suite. For the first time, companies not only had financially-educated CEOs, but also acquired chief marketing officers, chief human resource officers, and chief information officers, etc. Many organizations utilize this model today. These specialized officers expand a company’s capacity to respond to market complexities with depth and effectiveness. They also serve to distribute leadership more broadly. These officers accomplish their goals in a parallel fashion—in other words, they typically exercise leadership over their specialty areas without much input from one another. This mode of leadership is known to operate in silos of non-collaborative, singular effort.
While it can be easy to study history and understand why past changes were necessary, it is more difficult to discern which adjustments are demanded in the present. However, current research and trends show that for businesses to remain competitive, the C-suite has to evolve yet again. Since current market disruptions are complex, with origins stemming from multiple areas, today’s C-suite must be cross-functional and symphonic. Collaboration across specialties must be prioritized in order to fully address a variety of shifting dynamics. Cross-disciplinary projects among highly trained specialists combine the oneness of the industrial age C-suite with the high functionality of the modern age C-suite. This results in a harmonious, full-bodied, interconnected dynamic among leadership team. The L’Oréal Group states, “It’s time to make “team” your company’s new hero.” This model sets aside authoritarianism in favor of creating cultures of listening, creativity, and collaboration.
While change can feel daunting, it is less so when it is a part of the organization’s credo or vision to embrace change as a positive aspect of its business. As GE’s Jack Welch has said, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, then the end is near.”
As your business encounters the never-ending influences of external change, consider how symphonic leadership may enhance its’ ability to keep pace and lead the way into a future replete with a vibrant and sustainable culture of success.
Dorothy Patrick is the founder and CEO of SPARX International™, a firm focused on increasing client ROI by providing organizational strategies to growing businesses. She applies a top-down, bottom-up communication approach that strengthens company culture and overall employee engagement. Dorothy has served more than 20 years in leadership roles with Fortune 100 firms and has run multiple profit centers with full P/L responsibility. Her leadership has contributed to the long-term success of many others during her diverse career with such firms as Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, UBS Financial Services and IFCO International.
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