Based on several true stories inside of multinational organizations:
When the chief human resources officer (CHRO) or any C-suite executive finally refuses to be a complicit bystander and commits to leading the business (like a real business leader)…here are 5 ways to start the conversation:
1) We have a serious problem …a culture problem.
We are witnessing a historic shift in what’s expected of us when it comes to understanding and evolving our company’s culture. We can’t deny or minimize the negative impact that our executive leadership is having on our culture any longer. The crisis of unconscious leaders is all around us, AND it is clearly a disadvantage for our business performance. This is a new era with new rules. We need to let go of some of the old success formulas…not all of them…just some. We are up to this challenge. We are going to shift the culture and expand the future-focused capabilities that we need (e.g., alignment, collaboration, curiosity, innovation, agility) so that we can not only stay relevant and competitive in the future but so that we can win. I (CHRO) am going to help you lead the way through this. I will need you to trust me. We will do this together.
2) Our industry, our history and our future are at odds.
It’s time for us to reactivate some of our originating startup/adaptive DNA and take our enterprise transformation seriously if we expect to win in the future.
Yes, we’re already rich, we have plenty of reserves, and we’ll probably stay afloat beyond your retirement…but we’re just floating right now. We’re not moving forward. We’re stuck. That’s not the kind of legacy we want to leave here after all this time, after all our hard work. The business case for change is undeniable, and yet we keep putting our head back in the sand, hiding in our offices, telling our employees and each other, “we got this.” But we’re just floating — and floating is insufficient. Just “getting by” is creating a long-term disadvantage for us, and it’s creating a ridiculous amount of unnecessary suffering right now.
“Just floating” is not going to be your legacy. And it’s not going to be mine either.This is not going to be fixed by having a two-day workshop or retreat. There is no shortcut. We need to shift some of our default thinking patterns/habits and close the gap on some key organizational attributes/behaviors that can make us more agile, collaborative and innovative. To be a legitimate competitor, we need to perform these attributes consistently at a professional, world-class level. This is not amateur hour or a time for dabbling/hacking away at this like it was a hobby to pick up over a weekend seminar. We have to evolve rapidly. We have to transform. We’ve been talking about this for years. If it were easy for us, we would have already been doing it. We’re stuck. We clearly all have a lot to learn. We need to adjust the way we think, relate, make decisions and take action. It’s never too early (and hopefully not too late) to ready our teams and ourselves for the future.
3) Our employees are losing faith…
So we have to act decisively. You saw what they wrote in the annual engagement survey. The research firm quantified just how much they are losing faith. You read the verbatims. You were upset by the quantity and toxicity of verbatims. You asked me:
“Who does that? Who writes that kind of terrible stuff, knowing that their bosses are going to be reading it?” Seriously, who does that? The “un-led” do that. (JL)
We can lead better. The people in our organization are telling us that we have a problem, and they want us to create a more constructive work environment.
- They basically called BS on our leadership team’s ability to deliver on a majority of our company core values (e.g., teamwork, innovation, courage, respect, trust, creativity, integrity). They notice the incongruence. THAT IS A STRONG SIGNAL FOR US.
- They said they have 20 percent less confidence in our business potential over the next two to three years compared to their confidence a year ago. THAT IS A STRONG SIGNAL FOR US.
- They said they are 25 percent less engaged than a year ago across all business units. THAT IS A STRONG SIGNAL FOR US.
None of this will fix itself. We MUST ready ourselves to respond more effectively by leading a sustainable, strategic culture shift.
4) Our leadership team is not yet equipped to respond/lead a transformation like this alone. We don’t know how to do this effectively yet (and pretending to know is only making things worse).
By our own words, we are at an inflection point that our default thinking patterns, behaviors and leadership muscles are NOT prepared for and need to change in order to achieve our three- to five-year plan success/goals — LET ALONE THIS YEAR’S STRETCH GOALS. We can do this, and I am going to lead this. We’re not transformation experts yet, so I’m going to get you and our entire leadership team the expert support, learning and development we all need to feel strong leading the way.
We will focus on consistency over intensity. We’re going to play the long game — no culture “change theater” or quick fixes. We will lead the way, with humility and empathy — not by knowing but by BECOMING LEARNING EXEMPLARS, showing that we value learning more than saving face. We are not yet personally connected to the kind of transformation that we are asking of our people, but we will be. This journey will be one of the greatest achievements of our career. We can do this.
5) To ready the organization for change we should expect to invest in both expanding leadership capabilities and building internal capacity.
We need to work on our inner game (transforming our mindsets) and our outer game (the way we execute the business). Our internal team of leaders will be fully involved and take on this initiative in a way that integrates with all of our existing work. Our leaders will be doing the majority of the training and development of middle manager cohorts — once we get a couple of cycles under our belt and I am confident that we can skillfully marry executive mentors and the extended leader/team cohorts into effective, sustainable programs that simultaneously support specific business priorities. For the transformation and readiness part, we will need to partner with an expert firm for the high-leverage areas that require their expertise, and we will need to be focused on the C-suite leadership development and culture change readiness (mentoring and coaching) work as well as ensuring high quality, internal capacity building.
To successfully achieve next level results/culture shift that we say we want, to maintain momentum and to build internal capacity to sustain it, I would expect us to work with expert resources/interventionists over the next three-year time frame while we build internal competency. It will more likely be front-loaded than equally spread out across those three years. It doesn’t have to be incremental learning and development dollars; we can reallocate some of our other important learning and development budget for this essential work.
Here are five more questions to engage the CEO.