Over the past few decades of working with hundreds of senior management teams while leading The Achieve Group (now AchieveGlobal) and The CLEMMER Group, I’ve seen the strategic, the tactical, and the totally lost. Not too many are totally lost. But far too many senior managers attempt organizational change or leadership development through narrowly focusing on delivering programs. These are generally unsuccessful. Hundreds of studies over the past three decades have shown that 50 – 70 percent of improving customer service levels, re-structuring, mergers/acquisitions, introducing new technologies, performance management systems, leadership training, and the like fail.

The main cause of those failures is a partial and piecemeal effort. Too many of these initiatives have a limited scope and are disconnected from the rest of the organization. The causes of this problem are rooted in the same mechanistic approaches as the all-too-common departmental silos frustrating customers, staff, and managers throughout so many organizations. In misguided attempts to hold individuals and groups accountable, many senior managers perpetuate an outdated view of the organization as clusters of groups and departments. They often fail to grasp an organization as a living organism with both independent and highly interdependent components. These managers also do little more than pay lip service to “culture” and “soft” issues like morale, values, team spirit, engagement, pride, and the like.

This chart shows the critical differences between a narrow and management-based approach to change and a systemic or leadership-based approach.

[Click here for more on Management and Leadership Definition/Balance]


Bolt-On Programs Built-In Culture Change
Training/change programs delegated to internal/external experts and specialists. Organizational/behaviour change led by line managers.
Departmental initiatives (like HR, IT, financial, marketing, customer service) planned and managed independently. Integration, interdependence, and interconnections across departments, programs, and initiatives.
Regularly renewing and re-launching change and improvement programs as previous ones die out. Discipline of follow through and follow up with two-way accountability, learning, and continuous improvement.
Electronic monologues push out an ever growing amount of top down and departmental data and emails. Electronic tools support the many lively dialogues/conversations up, down, and across the organization.
Vision/mission statements and core values have a high “snicker factor” and little day-to-day use. Vision, mission, values actively guide decisions for strategy, planning, hiring, coaching, recognition, training, promotions, etc.
Crisis management to fix the problem or figure out who to blame. Tracing root causes to the bigger systemic issues.
Measurements and performance discussions are painful distractions from “getting my work done.” Frequent and transparent measurements and feedback guide collective learning, decision making, and change.
Processes and organizational systems are internally focused, fragmented, and managed by specialists and experts. Processes and organizational systems serve external customers with integrated support for frontline teams across a chain of internal partnerships.

Transformation Pathways

Following are key Pathways to cultural transformation. Strategic senior leaders guide everyone toward understanding, aligning, and integrating these critical areas.

[Click here for an assessment and more information these Pathways and their sub-components]

Focus and Context (Vision, Values, and Purpose)

  • Bringing alive the vision, values, and purpose/mission at the centre of organization’s culture


  • Focusing the entire organization on external customer needs and expectations
  • Strengthening internal partnerships working back from external customer expectations (outside-in) across teams and departments
  • Extending “the customer service/quality chain” out to external partners such as suppliers, distributors, and strategic alliances

Strategy and Direction

  • Aligning strategy, structure, and roles up, down, and across the organization
  • Establishing three – five annual strategic imperatives to focus daily operations and strategic change/improvement efforts
  • Cascading a goal deployment system for disciplined follow through down all organizational levels

Measures and Rewards

  • Balancing leading indicators like operational and customer service or quality with lagging indicators such as financial measures
  • Establishing a feedback-rich culture for continuous learning and improvement
  • Aligning reward and recognition programs and practices with desired behaviors
  • Continuously changing and improving through reviewing, assessing, celebrating, and refocusing

Processes and Systems

  • Streamlining processes at the local/tactical, cross-functional/departmental, and strategic/organizational levels
  • Aligning key organizational support systems (HR, IT, financial, controls, planning, etc.) to reduce frustration and boost performance

Learning and Development

  • Delivering effective education and communications strategies, systems, and practices
  • Assessing and closing skill development gaps
  • Building more strong departmental, project, and cross-functional teams
  • Assessing and closing gaps in organizational learning, knowledge management, and innovation
  • Building a strong planning process and infrastructure to support ongoing transformation and change processes

Managers must become more strategic if they are going to help their organizations find long-term and lasting solutions to organizational change and leadership development. They must recognize the bigger patterns in these issues.