Culture change continues to be a hot topic because it’s vital to successfully implementing change and improvement efforts. It’s one of the key factors in the 50 – 70% failure rate for programs to increase safety performance, service and quality levels, Lean/Six Sigma, productivity, innovation, leadership skills.

As I prepare for a series of webcasts, keynotes, workshops, and internal consultant/change agent training on culture change this fall, I’ve been reviewing research and what we’re learning first-hand from our work with long-term consulting and training Clients. A team or organization’s culture can be quite subtle. Many executives and managers don’t understand how the success of programs they’re trying to implement go way beyond the “hard” tools to the “soft” issues of leadership behaviors and culture. An example of this is this spring’s blogs on Lean/Six Sigma and how Toyota’s culture is what really makes the difference in their use of these tools. (Lean Leadership: Boosting or Blocking Lean/Six Sigma Tools and Techniques, Lasting Organizational Change Balances Doing and Being, and Toyota Under Fire: Leadership Lessons in Turning Crisis Into Opportunity).

During leadership development workshops over the past few years, we developed our Range of Reality model to explain the often unconscious underlying values during executive and manager behavior (Range of Reality: Choosing the Best or the Worst of Times). This model was published in Growing @ the Speed of Change.

In using the pessimism and optimism contrasts of the Range of Reality with executives and managers, we’d often draw parallels with concepts like Douglas McGregor’s well known Theory X and Theory Y leadership models (Theory X beliefs; people are lazy, will rip you off, need to be “snoopervised,” and must be threatened and coerced. Theory Y beliefs; people are self-motivated and self-controlled, want to take pride in their work, be on a winning team, and can be trusted.) The executive/manager’s beliefs form his or her reality that drives behavior. The shared reality and behavior of the management team is the key driver of the culture of the organization they lead.

This led to a culture version of our Range of Reality:

Range of Reality

Range of Reality - Jim Clemmer, The Practical Leader

Cultures are Built on Underlying Beliefs

  • Fearful command and control
  • Catch people doing things wrong
  • Play not to lose
  • Focus on gaps/weaknesses
  • See the worst in people
  • Push and punish
  • Courageous shared leadership
  • Catch people doing things right
  • Play to win
  • Build on strengths
  • Bring out the best in people
  • Pull and coach


Which reality best describes your culture? Many executives and managers will lean toward the Optimism end of the range when describing the culture of the teams or organizations they lead. This is often a serious self-deception! It’s often a confusion of their intention with their behaviors. The truism “perception is reality” means we need to get the perception of the team or organization members. That’s courageous leadership.