Cleaning The Big House

Don’t take cultural change lightly

My wife and I recently read articles about Pope Francis publicly tongue-lashing his curia for the extreme office politics it practiced. One of us compared it with the mafia, but I won’t say which because one of us is a practicing Catholic.

My wife didn’t ask me, “If the curia were a company, how would you change the culture?” — but I gave her the answer, anyway: Any CEO with this much bad behavior and broken culture needs to find a few of the worst offenders, grab them by their vestments and throw them to the curb. I’d then find a few believers who’d proved themselves loyal and competent, give them red capes and staffs, and ask them to help fix the joint.

Words alone, even tough words from the guy or gal at the top, won’t accomplish anything, especially when they run into power hungry, holier-than-thou, bureaucratic naysayers. Only words combined with action will start to turn the tide.

Cultural transformation is tremendously hard work. It’s hand-to-hand, bloody combat — the tougher the transformation, the bloodier. Also, a field general, not an emperor, must conduct it. Tear out the rotten elements and put your fingerprints all over the rebuilt organization. Exhibit the behavior you want.

Culture evolves over time. If you don’t steer it in the right direction while it advances, you can end up with a monster. Even if you proactively manage your culture, you may decide that what got you here isn’t what will get you to the next level of success.

Don’t take cultural change lightly; follow a “think-plan-do-do-do” model. This isn’t the area of business to try new things daily. It’s also not something that occurs in a weekend seminar or by getting everyone to walk over hot coals.

Like other changes, cultural change is much easier when there’s clear and compelling evidence that things are broken. Even a pope needs a “mandate.” However, if you wake up one morning and realize that cultural change is required to succeed or to get to the next level, don’t despair. A strong leader with clear vision and great communication skills can still undertake cultural transformation collaboratively and thoughtfully, but don’t expect a walk in the park.

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