CEO’s continue to publicly proclaim their efforts to manage significant and meaningful culture change. Some miss the mark and show their lack of understanding this critical topic. Others, like Satya Nadella of Microsoft, share a much clearer vision and appear like they truly “get it.” What separates the visionary and capable culture champions from the vast majority of leaders that don’t understand the culture fundamentals?
My fascination with culture began more than 40 years ago when another young industrial engineer named Jim Delaney and I started a process improvement consulting firm not long after graduating from UCLA. I quickly discovered that it was easier to decide on change than to get people to change. I observed that companies, like people, had personalities, and while some were healthy, most were like dysfunctional families. They had trust issues, turf issues and resistance to change. The difference between working with Sam Walton on the supply chain at Walmart and working with Woolworths was like night and day. It was clear one company would succeed and the other would fail because of the mindset and habits of the firms.
Years ago, NASA ran a series of experiments on the best way to make decisions. They used a series of survival scenarios, and asked individuals in a large group to solve the challenge and rate themselves. Then they asked small groups to solve the problems and rate their performance. About 98% of the time, the groups received better scores than the individuals.
New information about the inadequacies of leadership at the U.S. Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers continues to be revealed daily. The headlines astound, “Bad VA care may have killed more than 1,000 veterans, senator’s report says.” In summary, for years the wait times reported by many medical centers in the management system for measuring effectiveness were simply false. As a result, veterans have not been served well and most everyone is outraged.
The following thorough post is a combination of two prior guest posts to Switch & Shift plus additional updates after Mary Barra’s second appearance before a House subcommittee.
The GM ignition switch recall tragedy led to at least 13 deaths and was the result of 11 years of failure on many levels. It’s a live case study on a sad culture crisis we all can and must learn from since culture is the most powerful force in organizations. Rarely do we have a chance to pull back the covers and see a culture with some serious dysfunction from an organization that still accomplishes amazing work on a global scale in spite of it all.