All significant organizational transformations require some level of corporate culture change. And all organizational culture change requires leaders to lead differently. In general, these changes are moving away from traditional command and control, where leaders set rigid requirements, lead through fear, and people attend to the needs of their silos over those of the enterprise. Command and control cultures often limit employee satisfaction and performance, and promote conflict between silos that hurt both business results, service to the customer, and organizational change.
The direction organizational culture is slowly going—but needs to go in earnest to survive in the dynamic 21st Century marketplace—is toward co-creating. Simply stated, co-creating means “working together across boundaries in pursuit of Win-win-win outcomes.” By Win-win-win, we mean outcomes that are best for the larger systems (i.e., the enterprise and customer) as well as the smaller systems (you and me; or your department and mine). This requires an “up and out” leadership perspective, not the “down and in” turf-perspective many leaders, staff and their organizational cultures have.
To operate co-creatively, your leaders and people need to put their first priority on the needs of the customer, and to align as an enterprise team that works collaboratively across internal boundaries in service to that customer. You need people to trust each other enough to stop defending turf; they need to open the line of collaboration and communication with each other. Working more effectively across boundaries where innovation, speed of change, and esprit de corps occur can powerfully impact your organization’s culture change.
Most of today’s large business transformations, where organizational culture change is paramount, need the shift to co-creating to occur to realize their intended ROI. ERP and CRM implementations, supply chain enhancement, merger integration, performance management—all succeed or fail based on the mindsets and behaviors of leaders and workers. Success requires people to give up self-interest and collaborate across boundaries in service to both customers and the enterprise. People need to be empowered and confident enough to leave their ego defenses for their silos in the hall and contribute as full enterprise players.
Most people are stuck in “either-or” thinking. Their mindsets are win-lose: “I either pursue what is best for me, or for you, or for the company, or for the customer, but all of us cannot win simultaneously.” This seems true when people think and react through their win-lose lens. Shift their thinking, however, and new possibilities arise for both the organizational culture and business results.
Let’s be real here. Operating from a Win-win-win perspective is a fundamental shift in mindset requiring significant personal growth and awareness. This level of mindset and behavior change does not occur overnight, neither in individuals or the entire organizational culture. However, it is possible, even one person at a time. With the proper development, support, rewards, and follow up, all driven by business strategy requirements, people’s behaviors, decision-making and actions do shift, and when they do, the organization’s culture follows.
There are numerous strategies you can use to promote the co-creative, Win-win-win way of being in your organizational culture. Some are long-term and require significant investment. Others are simple and easy to implement.
The most profound strategy for shifting your organizational culture in this direction is offering multi-day leadership retreats cascaded through the organization. These retreats blend organization performance (business strategy imperatives, enterprise focus, customer service, systems dynamics) with a focus on personal growth (self awareness, emotional intelligence, behavior change) and relationship skills (communications, teamwork, collaboration, conflict resolution), all applied to the organizational culture chane. Making co-creative leadership and Win-win-win the integrating themes of this type of retreat profoundly impacts participants because they directly experience how their mindset influences success: personally, inter-personally, and organizationally. We have run many of these retreats and they are remarkably successful at shifting leaders’ thinking and style and supporting organizational culture change.
Another approach to promoting organizational culture change toward co-creating is through clarifying your company mission, strategies and goals, and cascading dialogues about them down through the organization. This can powerfully influence people to look “up and out” from a Win-winwin perspective. But only if each level of leadership understands how to support the “larger good,” and works collaboratively with the levels below them to identify how they can collectively contribute to the whole – and shift the organization’s culture in the process. Remember, in all these strategies, the key to the organizational culture change is always helping people change their mindset from primarily focusing on their individual needs or their “piece” of the organization to what is best for the overall enterprise and customer.
Refocusing the company’s mission and goals is fairly common. Many organizations attempt this type of realignment through change communications, but few provide the personal and management development required to see it put into action on real work. Change communications alone do not accomplish this level of organizational culture change. Success requires training, follow up, monitoring and coaching, skills few organizations have mastered or built into their organizational culture change efforts.
You can help leaders learn how to coach their people to promote co-creative behavior and Win-win-win thinking. Most leaders habitually provide the answers to problems their people encounter, and most subordinates expect that from their leaders. This inadvertently develops dis-empowered, command and control type organizational cultures. Instead, teach your leaders to present their people with the Win-win-win outcome to achieve, and then coach their people to cocreatively figure out how to achieve that result themselves. Have them encourage subordinates to think and engage differently and to work across boundaries. Over time, they will begin to operate that way automatically and the organizational culture change you seek will begin to unfold. The key with this strategy, of course, is developing your leaders’ coaching and listening skills, and their own Win-win-win perspective.
Co-creating as a mindset and behavior should be an essential ingredient and focus of most organizational culture change. Build in strategies to introduce, teach, and support Win-win-win in your executive ranks, throughout middle management, and in your workforce. There is no more powerful an organizational culture change strategy than having executives do the level of personal change required to model this way of being to the organization. Make this a central part of your organization’s culture and you will see your business results grow. Organizations with this type of organizational culture unleash much more of the human potential of their workforce.