Since my TEDx talk “emotions at work” 4-5 years ago, I have been writing a few articles about how emotions can have a very useful place in companies and add value to innovation strategies. What I haven’t written about yet is what I’ve been doing these past few years in organisations to enable emotionally healthy cultures. In this “3-tips” article I am sharing the key messages I use in many workshops and trainings (whether at Airbus, Rotterdam School of Management, European Central Bank or TNO), some obvious reminders, some counter-intuitive notions and some challenging practices.
So I’ve decided to continue the series of transformation leaders’ interviews and I’m starting this year with Thierry Zedda, a French engineer, currently working as a Performance and Portfolio Manager at DSM [one of the largest Dutch companies with 10 bill € in revenue, and employing over 20,000 people]. Going from engineering to finance to more transversal roles, leading or involved in complex large scale transformations and with the creation of a knowledge platform [aqboost.com], Thierry has an interesting experience and perspective on finance transformation.
His engineering background grants him a pragmatic approach to transformation and a penchant for technology. But don’t be fooled, Thierry is curious but not crazy for the techno hype we have seen recently entering finance (automation, AI, block chain etc.). And for a finance guy, he has learned to look way beyond the figures and work with the cultural change required to really implement beautifully crafted solutions.
The two key subjects that struck me in our conversation were :
- His passion for helping the finance profession to question itself and do a real introspection about its roles, about the meaning of new technologies and about its valuable new position in the organisation.
- Measuring the effectiveness of mindset transformation with maturity assessment, non-financial KPIs and storytelling.
During the past few years, whether discussing mentoring programmes or cultural transformation with large corporations, I am faced with a disproportionate belief in “tools”. I think I need to clarify that it is not because as consultants we use tools that we sell tools. A keynote from Frédérique PAIN I organized recently for one of our key customer, confirmed what I’ve been seeing for years: too many French and European companies have a disproportionate belief and trust in « tools » and methodologies. Our common Western culture and history of engineering development and thinking put a strong bias toward reproductible, documented approaches to problems.
But when dealing with people and cultural transformation, tools are far from enough.
When I wrote the “Mentoring by FabMob” white paper, I was already hinting at an example of use of mentoring to facilitate the cultural integration in the case of acquisition of a new entity. I do not wish to go into the well documented difficulties that large companies face when they are merging or acquiring, how people issues come into play, and how the integration of different ways of working, thinking, communicating can put a real spanner in the works. Even though we all know it is a challenge, still very little M&A really work on the cultural aspect, and very little use mentoring as a tool for creating real human connections for a faster blend of cultures.
As many professionals in my field, I get this question a lot: « What is the most common misconception about innovation? » The short answer is that most of the time, innovation is discussed and operated as a single thing. It’s not. It’s a complex blend of diverse forms of « innovations » that obey different rules, different mindsets and requires different tools.
The long(er) answer is:
I am very much surprised to see many analysts thinking seriously that Facebook facing a colossal data-gate, could turn around and suddenly become customer-driven. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Facebook will be Facebook. But to understand that you have to go past obvious solutionism (they should do this or that) and understand that any successful business was born with a powerful DNA. And you can’t change your DNA.
A recent podcast about “How to fix your company’s culture” grabbed my attention because it illustrates how rarely big corporations actually work on their culture. Although, I would say the “fixing” entails something is broken and I wouldn’t say that corporate culture could be broken. It might be mismatched with its environment or within itself (vision and values are not aligned with behaviors), or worse, your culture might just have faded away…
In the past year or so, with so many media scandals about various company culture dysfunctions, many other corporate cultures being dissected, scrutinised and analysed, and the many advice published online, it seems about time to hire Company Culture VPs to ensure the culture is supporting and not hindering your strategy and image. In this short article, I’m presenting the three key missions of the company culture VP.
The main reason why a corporate culture change fails is the lack of awareness of what the specific culture of the company is. Although it can be observed via the behaviours of employees, leaders are often blind to it until something unexpected and critical for the organisation happens. As it was the case for Uber and United Airlines. But waiting for such a wake-up call might be lethal as the company may not be able to readjust the culture in time and recover from the public blow.
Even when most of the “right” ingredients were implemented, most corporate culture changes fail anyway. And the quintessential trap is always the same: the culture of a company is a multi-layered assemblage. Work on one layer at a time (such as the behaviours) and you’ll have results. However, after a while, other layers that were unchanged (values, vision…) will collide and counteract the initial results. These various elements of corporate culture move at different speeds. They don’t even have the same plasticity and are driven by factors that can be very counter-intuitive. In the end, avoiding a full-stack approach to corporate culture change is a rookie mistake. Let’s see then how to deal with it…
I was invited early October to speak about how to unlock women’s careers at a round table debate at the Elle Active Forum.
I have been meaning to write this article for ages and not daring to say some obvious truths about organizations and how they think as a collective. Since the work that I do is on the “soft” human side, it has often been associated with HR, but a great number of my work to change organizations is not ordered by HR. And the best programmes that I do are not sponsored by HR, they are backed by CEOs themselves, Executive Committees and high level management. In many instances I have found that HR is powerless!