HR has always appeared to be the natural home for the mechanics of leading culture change. In recent years, however, I’ve observed another human resource in the executive team. A person whose influence over culture is potentially the most powerful of all: The Chief Financial Officer.
According to Josh Bersin, demographic upheaval coupled with digital technology has greatly contributed to a rapid increase in the rate of change. This accelerated rate is, in turn, leading to new social contracts and business considerations. Bersin is responsible for long-term strategy at Bersin by Deloitte and is frequently published in Forbes.com and Chief Learning Officer magazine. He cites an MIT study revealing that 90% of CEOs said their company is experiencing disruption. Ninety percent! Given these turbulent times, the conversation about culture is more relevant than ever.
In 2011, a major oil and gas exploration company based in the UK set out on an extraordinary, arts-based leadership development programme at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, designed and led by Dr. Mark Powell, one of the authors of this article. The company’s senior project managers are responsible for multi-million-dollar exploration projects around the world and the programme was designed, not to give these senior managers enhanced skillsets or new theoretical frameworks, but to change their behaviors and mindsets — to change their culture. More specifically, the aim was to create a new culture, the key element of which could be described as ‘open-mindedness’, in two distinct forms: