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Friday, May 14, 2021

CEO Insider

On Culture: A Thought Leader’s Perspective

Todd Cherches, James Kerr, and Steve Harvill

Since the publication of my most recent book, Indispensable: Build and Lead A Company Can’t Live Without, last month, I have had the marvelous opportunity to discuss several of the key questions covered in the book with several fellow thought leaders.

This 5-part article series captures the essence of those discussions. Each piece is organized around one unique and important question. Along with mine, each article delivers perspectives from two other leadership luminaries.

For this article, I invited Todd Cherches, author of VisuaLeadership: Leveraging the Power of Visual Thinking in Leadership and in Life and cofounder of BigBlueGumball, and Steve Harvill, management consultant and founder of Creative Ventures, to tackle this key question with me:

 “What advice do you have for top leaders interested in resetting their company’s culture in a post-pandemic world?”

Here are our best ideas on the topic:

Steve: On the planet Earth there are over 20,000 earthquakes a year. Each and every one of them unexpected. The attack of the Covid-19 virus hit the business world like an earthquake. But we learn.  Over the past few decades we have learned to construct buildings to withstand these shakes.  They have flexible and strong foundations where the base moves but the structure remains steady.  Corporate culture is a lot like that.  Our cultivated collection of values and norms, when articulated as a core strategy, can withstand “unexpected shock waves”.  Culture is dynamic.  It runs deep.  It’s not a surface phenomenon.

Todd: True! As the saying goes, the genie is out of the bottle, though. So, rather than trying to force things back to (as the song goes) “the way we were,” leaders need to focus on creating a culture of ownership, empowerment, and accountability. To the extent that you can, if your people have proven that they can be trusted to deliver results by doing things in a way that works best for them, let them continue.

Jim: If leaders believe that their cultures survived intact after all we’ve been through in the past 12-plus months, they’re in for a big surprise. The “more normal” post-pandemic work-world will look little like it did before COVID.

After all, company culture is the foundation of every business because it determines how people behave. We can safely assume that we will never behave like we once did before COVID hit. Staffers are approaching their work with new sensitivities about what’s important and how their jobs can be done. Company cultures need to adjust to accommodate these changes and be refined to get the best out of the people that comprise the enterprise. If you optimize the culture and ensure its alignment with the achievement of your strategic objectives, your business performance will improve.

Todd: in fact, there is that saying, “you can either have ‘culture by design’ or ‘culture by default’.” So if you want “culture by design,” leaders need to do what’s commonly referred to as “design thinking,” which involves, among other things, focusing on the end user experience. And, in this case, the end user is your employee. There’s that saying that “the customer comes second”…because if you treat your people well, they will, in turn do the same for your customers.

Steve: Here are three key aspects to keep in mind as reentry appears on the horizon:

  • Communication Streams: Culture needs the drumbeat of its purpose, especially when disconnect from the social network of being together.  Make communication strategic.
  • Genesis Points: The culture should be the beginning of key decision making.  It acts as a filter and when everyone knows they can depend on it, it becomes an organizational pillar.
  • Engagement: I’m talking ENROLLMENT not buy-in.  Great cultures offer participation in idea creation and development.  Find ways to garner enrollment in corporate direction.

Place a steady focus on these and culture will provide a basis for everyone to hold on to.

Todd: I would add that leaders need to lead by following. And this means getting your people actively involved in the culture creation process. Dale Carnegie once said that “People support a world they help create.” So if leaders want to create a culture – and a world – in which people will thrive, become their best selves, and do their best work, we need to engage them, empower them, and inspire them to create the culture they want and need. And, in so doing, leaders will create a culture and a climate in which their people will be able to spread their wings and fly.

Jim: The good news is that when it comes to resetting the culture, leaders don’t have to go it alone. There are firms, like mine, that can help. I’ve personally driven dozens of clients through our 6-step culture transformation methodology to co-create culture reset plans tailored to their specific situation and needs.  Because we insist on doing culture work “with” our clients, instead of “for,” or worse “to” them, commitment to the resulting plans is almost automatic.

To close, I always find it puzzling when prospective clients suggest that the financial return on culture investments are difficult to quantify. It leads me to ask them what value do they place on  Strategic Alignment? Improved Teamwork? a High Trust Work Setting? Or Improved Customer Intimacy?

Given what we have all endured, company culture must be fashioned in a very deliberate way to avoid all kinds of problematic consequences, including poor performance, weak company affiliation and worker burnout – all things that many organizations have experienced in the past year. Be sure to reset your culture as we get back to the “more normal” business world.

Look for the next installment of this series next Tuesday, where I explore trust building with two more influential thought leaders.


James Kerr‘s “Thought leadership” column series at the CEOWORLD magazine.
1. Do You Want A Thought Leader’s Perspective on Leadership?.
2. Thought Leadership Series Part II: Perspectives on Vision.
3. On Culture: A Thought Leader’s Perspective.
4. Trust: Part IV of Thought Leader’s Perspective Series.
5. Final Installment: Thoughts Leader’s on Authenticity.


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James Kerr
James M. Kerr, founder at Indispensable Consulting, is a long-time management consultant, vision maker and leadership coach. For nearly 30 years, he has helped his clients re-imagine the way work is organized and performed. His latest book, Indispensable: Build and Lead A Company Customers Can’t Live Without is his 6th business title. Kerr is an expert in leadership, strategy, organizational design and cultural transformation. James Kerr is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.