The demand for higher organizational standards is on the rise. Not only is company leadership responsible to define success in terms that will keep shareholders and external customers content (with consistent revenue, quality products, stellar customer service and visibly measurable corporate responsibility initiatives), they are now expected to undergo significant cultural changes which will improve the “employee” experience.

Some would question why these changes are necessary if the organizations in question are financially successful and comfortably positioned in the market. The treatment of employees has come under scrutiny – even for the most successful companies in highly visible industries. This is a reminder that without them, (the human resources to which success is directly attributed) profit, customers, market share and every other tangible measure of success, cease to exist.

Facilitating an organizational culture transformation is not the path of least resistance for leaders; especially if the organization is guilty of neglecting its employees. This doesn’t mean that you haven’t provided them with annual increases or earned benefits, but you may have increased outcome expectations without adequate training or support, you may have left them in the dark when major decisions which affected them were made, you may have changed the rules of the game without their knowledge or input, you may have treated them as though you were doing them a favor by allowing them to show up everyday in support of your mission and vision… Leadership isn’t providing a paycheck. Leadership is relationship… and healthy relationships require communication and effort.

Some organizations may choose the “wait and see” approach to the issue of cultural transformation… in hopes that the revolution will end in a minor skirmish and quickly fade; leaving them to continue with business as usual. Others have been rolling the dice, betting that their employees will remain loyal through continued dysfunction. Then there are those who have taken the “do-over” approach; finding reasons to release employees without cause and start over with a fresh batch; with no intention of changing their leadership style or taking responsibility for the existing culture.

Despite the warning signs and red flags which crop up along the way, leadership is often late in identifying and/or acknowledging the need for cultural transformation. What leaders in each of these situations fails to realize is that their employees are fully aware of the value in what they are missing… and they are actively in search of higher quality professional relationships with which to align themselves.

How much does it cost an organization to ignore much needed improvements in culture?  Let’s remember… cultural dysfunction starts with leadership.  Miscommunication, confusion and instability flows from the top, down to management levels. The managers then communicate the same (intentionally or not) to the frontline employees. Costs incurred include loss of trust, inconsistent messaging, inefficiencies, morale degradation, an increase in customer complaints about products and/or services, loss of revenue, nicks in the armor of brand reputation and, as a result, penal responses from leadership which flow through management, down to the frontline (those whose work directly effects the bottom-line).

Leading Edge: When an organization comes face to face with the reality that cultural transformation is no longer an option, leadership is presented with two options.  

1) Ignore the elephant in the room… You know, the one lifting its trunk in every meeting, wasting valuable time, halting meaningful conversation with divisiveness and consuming clarity and open communication like oxygen; spewing attitudes which reek of superiority and entitlement rather than rendering solutions and building bridges, digging holes and leaving scars for resentment to grow and mistrust to fester; creating an atmosphere where demeaning comments are tolerated and where disrespect insights fear among staff members who genuinely value their positions; putting them on edge… or worse, encouraging them to actively seek healthier professional relationships and opportunities elsewhere. Or…

2) Step up to the plate, dig in, set yourself and lead the charge for cultural transformation.

For some, this second course of action will challenge you to your core. It will require personal and professional self-examination; accompanied by changes of heart and mind. The internet is full of suggestions to get you started and you may have peers who are engaged in similar activities. But if you need a boost… Keep Reading.

Some leaders and their companies apply what’s commonly known as The Golden Rule. It comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in the Bible (Matthew 7:12). One translation says “…in everything, treat others the same way you want them to treat you”. Arguably, we are not all the same and therefore don’t all prefer the “same” treatment. For instance, you may want a phone call or an email whereas I might prefer a text message…

So, there are other leaders and companies who simply Employ Empathy (capturing the essence of the earlier admonition). They do this by engaging in an active search for ways to reach into the worlds of their employees. Simple displays of common courtesy and human interaction are masterful at communicating appreciation, acknowledging efforts and celebrating mutual commitment, meaningfully and positively.

For some leaders, facilitating cultural transformation may be quite natural… and for others it may require a fresh perspective or hands on assistance from others. In either case, it is not a task designed to be accomplished in a vacuum. My advice would be to choose your allies wisely. These agents of cultural change (some of whom exist within your organization) are patiently waiting for you to make the call. They can’t do it for you, nor do they want to. Their desire is not to usurp your authority, but to support you as you lead the charge. Be consistent. Let them know you value their contributions enough to change and grow with them. Give your employees something worth following.

Leading the charge for cultural transformation is a bold and courageous step; and the organizational and personal savings will be well worth the effort. You will see increases in management confidence, efficiencies, personnel energy levels and creativity; uplifting your employees, securing your customer base, rescuing your reputation and protecting your brand for the future. As a bonus… clarity, stability, fresh ideas, and revenue can now freely flow from the healthy organizational environment created as a result of your willingness to lead the charge for your organization’s cultural transformation.

Cheers to your Successes!

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