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All levers for culture change are equal, but…

#NimbleVlog Season 02 Episode 02Further to S02E01, this new episode of the #NimbleVlog is about transforming the corporate culture. ORCHANGO’s president & co-founder Edmond Mellina discusses the levers for culture shift. Paraphrasing George Orwell’s Animal Farm, he says: “All levers are created equals, but the Keystone lever is more equal than the others.” Watch the episode to find out which one it is…


Reading time: less than 5 minutes

The last episode of the #NimbleVlog was about culture transformation.

I talked about the importance of developing a Culture Model to prioritize, focus and fuel the necessary shift in mindsets and behaviours.

So today, I will share with you the framework we use when working with clients on bringing their specific Culture Model to life.

It is basically one picture that shows all the primary levers for culture change. And we use it almost as a checklist while strategizing and then executing the culture-shift.

First, the Culture Model itself is a lever. Because it focusses the effort and also because it anchors all the other levers. So, it is critical to communicate it widely and to keep it top of mind – all the time.

The other levers are grouped under three categories: hard levers, soft levers, and the keystone lever. They are all important and effective, but the keystone lever is more important than the other ones.

To paraphrase George Orwell and his Animal Farm, I could say that: “All levers are created equals, but the Keystone lever is more equal than the others.”

But before I disclose what it is, let me first talk about hard levers and soft levers.

The hard levers relate to your management systems and processes, as well as your physical and virtual work environments. They are the major components of the organizational “hardware”. And as such, they contribute to shaping behaviours – and therefore, the culture. So, it is important that you alter them as necessary in order to promote and enable the priority mindsets and behaviours from the Culture Model.

Activating the hard levers is in essence a realignment effort. It is technical in nature.

Equally important is activating the soft levers, they relate to the “software” of the organization – which is your people.

Who you promote, who you hire, who you let go, all that shapes your culture. Similarly, your learning programs, your onboarding programs, drive the culture. Therefore, ensure that they are aligned with the Culture Model, enable it, support it.

Also, pay special attention to symbols, stories and rituals – because they are very powerful levers.

At Amazon, when Jeff Bezos used his famous 2-pizza rule, that was a symbol to promote nimbleness. At 3M, when they kept telling employees how one of their colleagues – Dr. Spencer Silver – invented the Post-It® note, that was a story to promote bottom-up innovation. When a leader starts every meeting by asking “What decision has to be made and who is the decision maker?”, that is a ritual to promote, to drive agile decision making.

So, having a Culture Model to anchor everything and activating both hard and soft levers is critical to successful culture transformation… but it won’t work unless you also activate the Keystone lever – which is about leadership.

That’s right: unless [the] bulk of your leaders embrace the Culture Model – which means unless they bring it to life every single day through their actions, in everything they do – you won’t succeed in shifting the culture.

And it must start at the top – with the CEO and the C-suite.

I know some folks are talking about bottom-up culture change. But in my experience, it is first and foremost a top-down process. Because of the Keystone lever.

So, to summarize: in order to shift your culture, start by developing a Culture Model; and then bring it to life by activating all the levers [for] culture change. But, as in the Animal Farm, remember that one lever is more equal than the others: and it is the leadership of your organization – from the top to the bottom…

Pro tips

Tip #1 – Use the ORCHANGO framework “Levers for Culture Change” as a checklist while strategizing and executing a culture shift.

Tip #2 – Anchor everything to your Culture Model [watch #NimbleVlog S02E01].

Tip #3 – Activate both hard and soft levers in a coherent way – paying particular attention to rituals, symbols and stories.

Tip #4 – Above all, ensure your leaders embrace the Culture Model – which means bringing it to life through all their actions, every single day.

Tip #5 – Remember that it must start at the top i.e. with the CEO and the C-Suite.

Playlist with all the #NimbleVlog episodes

Headshot Of Edmond Mellina, ORCHANGO's President & Co-Founder

Edmond is ORCHANGO's president & co-founder.

He is internationally respected for his expertise in nimble change leadership and culture change. For the past 30 years, he has been executing strategic transformations, building agile capabilities, and advising clients across sectors in Europe, North America and the Middle East.

He is a former corporate transformation executive in drastically changing industries: CIO at Delta Hotels when Expedia disrupted the hotel business; and VP Corporate Development & General Manager USA for the technology business of Envoy Communication Group when design and marketing agencies started to become digital.

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