Driving Organizational Culture Change through Co-Creative Change Leadership

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Dean Anderson
Linda Ackerman Anderson

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.

A Shift in Mindset Can Drive Your Organization’s Culture Change

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.

Organizational Cultures that Are Co-Creative Deliver Greater Results

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.

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With this extensively upgraded second edition, Dean Anderson and Linda Ackerman Anderson solidify their status as the leading authorities on change leadership and organizational transformation. This is without question the most comprehensive approach for leaders who are serious about making change a strategic discipline. Beyond Change Management is an intelligent book by two of the most knowledgeable and accomplished masters of their craft, and it’s one that every conscious change leader should adopt as their guide to creating more meaningful organizations.

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Read this great book by Dean Anderson and Linda Ackerman Anderson and learn how to use their multi-dimensional approach to lead transformation masterfully and consciously!

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World-renowned executive coach
Author of the New York Times best-sellers, MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

An important move toward a more integral business consulting approach, very much recommended for those interested in the topic and ways to actually apply it. 

Ken Wilber
Author, The Integral Vision, A Brief History of Everything, and over a dozen other best-sellers

Dean and Linda are core to the field of conscious change leadership, and continue to stretch and push its boundaries in this rich and deep compendium. This is a must read from two consummate thought leaders who have devoted their careers to developing highly successful change leaders. Read it and immediately improve your change leadership or consulting success.

Bev Kaye
CEO, Career Systems International
Author of Love 'em or Lose 'em: Getting Good People to Stay

This book is about mastery of leading the transformational change process written by masters of the craft.  For corporate leaders and consultants who consider themselves committed students of the process of organizational change.

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Author of Managing at the Speed of Change and Leading at the Edge of Chaos

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Professor, University of Michigan
Co-author with Warren Bennis of JUDGMENT: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls

Once again, Dean and Linda have nailed it! Beyond Change Management is an extraordinary book examining the shifts in change management that have occurred over the years. This book offers real, practical solutions for change practitioners to become extraordinary conscious change leaders.

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Director, Unified Change Management
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Powerful business solutions to the current chaos facing many organizations today. Dean Anderson and Linda Ackerman Anderson get to the heart of change, the human touch, by using timeless techniques and tools.
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Having applied this methodology for two years to manage change inside Microsoft, it has been instrumental in our ability to land change effectively, engage employees and deliver results quickly. The Change Leader’s Roadmap allows us to lead change with precision and minimal outside consulting, while at the same time growing change leadership capability internally. This is the most complete change methodology we have found anywhere.

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This newest edition of The Change of Leader’s Roadmap is an invaluable, comprehensive and practical guide for envisioning an organization’s desired future, designing the structures and practices necessary to make it happen, and implementing them effectively. The book describes the change process in nine distinct phases and outlines the activities and tasks that need to occur in each phase. It provides change leaders with an essential map for successfully traversing the complex and uncertain terrain of transformational change.   

Thomas G. Cummings
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This is the next best thing to having Dean, Linda and the Being First team riding alongside your complex change initiative. The Change Leader’s Roadmap breeds confidence in senior executive “Champions” to guide not just a successful transformational change, but most importantly, to develop the mission critical organizational CULTURE that will ensure unparalleled return on investment. Nothing I have seen in my 32 years of leading change comes close.

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A practical, step-by-step guide for change leaders, managers and consultants. The book provides conceptually grounded, real world, time tested tools and guidance that will prove invaluable to those faced with navigating the challenges of leading organizational change in today's turbulent times.

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Senior Scholar in Residence
MSOD Program, American University
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