2020 has left a trail of exhausted people, mentally drained, after coping with a year of high uncertainty. We learned to adapt by force and reinvented ourselves. But more importantly, where we developed resilience, our ability to bounce back in the face of adversity grew and as a result, we came out stronger.

Ready for 2021? Bring it on! …but how?

How are we supposed to be ready for new endeavors when most of us feel the urge to step down and go slow for a change?
2021 is already proving itself challenging. We aren’t close to overcoming the COVID-19 crisis and we still need to care of ourselves and others.  Meanwhile, the world keeps changing. New opportunities emerge in the midst of this crisis and lots of organizations struggle to survive and transform their businesses. It can feel overwhelming.
Leaders are not only dealing with their own need to reconnect and reinspire themselves, but they also need to take care of their teams, as many continue to work remotely while performing other roles (homeschooling, taking care of our elders, looking after our home etc.). Some may be suffering from change fatigue, by being constantly called to change their way of working, taking on more responsibilities as a consequence of employee cutoffs and new demands.
However, not everything is doom and gloom. There is a silver lining: we have learned a lot in 2020. We have increased our ability to confront difficult circumstances and take advantage of new emerging opportunities driven by change. Each of us has what we need to rise and shine. We just need to remind ourselves of it and invest time in renewing our energy and leading the way into 2021.

Balance work / life integration

There are simple, yet powerful, things you can try that will help refuel your energy, reignite your enthusiasm, and bring focus to what’s important, thus improving your wellbeing.

1. Disconnect to re-connect.

With travel restrictions and lockdowns throughout the world, taking time off to stay home seems counterintuitive for some of us. We usually connect holidays with traveling. However, now, more than ever, we desperately need time to pause and disconnect fully from work and daily activities. We need time to recharge, even if it means staying home, relaxing, and doing nothing. Some of the most brilliant ideas have flourished while doing nothing… just being. Plan for it and make sure you also unplug from technology. Technology has been a main character in our lives in 2020. Let’s give ourselves a break!

2. Re-commit to yourself, connecting with what is important in your life.

Take some time to reflect on what you value most: is this the life I want to have? What do I really want my life to be about? How do I want to live my life? What gives meaning to my life? Where do I want to invest my time and energy?
Gifting ourselves with time to envision what we want and grounding our thoughts re-connects us with what’s important in our lives and gives meaning to everything we do. Spiritual meaning is an unlimited source of energy.

3. Do something you love every day.

Make a list of the things you enjoy doing that lift your spirit and feed your inner self. Set aside some time every day to do the things you love. The key to refueling your energy is to be consistent and invest time in you. This will help you to be centered and present.

4. Count your blessings.

Practice gratitude deliberately every day, until it becomes a habit. Gratitude and appreciation unleash joy and happiness and provide us with a sense of wellbeing and peace of mind. We can train our minds to focus on abundance rather than scarcity, on appreciating what we have instead of what we miss. It helps reorganize our priorities to enjoy life as it is.

5. Celebrate your achievements.

Take time to celebrate what you have accomplished, even what you judge to be unimportant. Don’t take it for granted. Small celebration rituals, such as sharing what makes you feel proud with others or voicing your emotions can be enough to reinforce a sense of accomplishment, strengthen your character, and fill yourself with new renewed energy and craving for more.
A new year is a great time to stop, pause, and recommit to ourselves and what is important for us. It’s a time to refresh and consciously replenish our energy. There are small and important practices we can learn and apply every day that helps us stay focused, energized, and enjoy the ride, increasing our wellbeing and living a more conscious life.

Team working together with their leader

As my colleague, Elena Ortega, wrote in her recent article, at Axialent we define culture as a set of values, norms, beliefs, and assumptions that govern how we work and what we do. So, how do we go about setting these values, norms, beliefs, and assumptions?

Some believe that to define a company’s culture, its leaders simply have to state what they want the culture to be, the values, and mission statement. Having a clear vision of your ideal culture is an important step toward building a strong one. However, behaviors and decisions from leaders will always be the strongest representation of what the company’s culture truly is. Culture and leadership are intimately connected.

Culture and leadership: You cannot truly understand one without the other

Organizational culture and leadership go hand in hand. To understand the culture of an organization, you must examine its leaders and leadership styles. Employees learn the culture of the organization through the messages they receive from its leaders. Whether the messages are consciously sent or not, we observe what is encouraged and discouraged and usually learn to act accordingly (or are forced out).
Culture also plays a role in shaping leaders and their styles. Those leaders that “fit in” to the current culture will thrive. On the other hand, a new leader who brings a different leadership style that is not aligned with the company’s current culture will come up against a lot of resistance from the organization and its people. Culture is a strong force and leaders also receive messages about what they should and shouldn’t do to fit in. If leaders want to change the culture, all leadership must be on board to do so.
These are some of the reasons why we use the  OCI® (Organizational Culture Inventory®) and OEI® (Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®) in combination with the LSI® (Life Styles Inventory®). The culture assessment tools (OCI-OEI) allow us to take a deep dive into the current culture. We invite a cross-section of employees to answer the culture surveys in order to truly understand their experience of the organization’s culture. At the same time, we measure the top leaders’ thinking and behavior styles with the LSI tool. Because of the links between these tools, the results provide a powerful way to connect the dots between the leaders’ styles and behaviors, and the current culture.

Leaders define the ideal culture of an organization

Leaders have the power to define the ideal culture based on what they value and believe leads to effectiveness. In turn, they shape the organization’s current culture through the messages they send about what is acceptable and unacceptable. In our culture transformation projects at Axialent, we like to take our diagnostic process a step further and define the ideal culture using another Human Synergistics tool: the OCI Ideal. Combining these tools allows us to get a complete look at the culture and the work that needs to be done to achieve the optimal culture for success. The OCI Ideal shows us where the leaders of the organization want the culture to be. The current OCI results show us where the organization is today. And the LSI tool allows us to examine the leaders’ role in the culture and create a game plan to make lasting change.


Culture and leadership are not two separate entities but are intimately connected. One influences the other and vice versa. This powerful information can be an important driving force in creating and maintaining the culture your organization needs to be successful.

Watch this live webinar recording where two of Axialent’s culture transformation experts, Thierry de Beyssac and Anabel Dumlao, talked to Tim Kuppler, Director of Culture and Organization Development for Human Synergistics, about the importance of intentionally managing culture and leadership development in an integrated way.

This article is part of a series on integrating culture and leadership change in culture transformation work.
5 Reasons To Integrate OCI-OEI And LSI Diagnostic Tools In Culture Transformation
Culture Change: For Culture to Change, Leaders Must Change
Culture Change: Measuring the gap makes the invisible, visible

In 100% of the deals where significant value was lost, the senior leaders (in corporate and private equity firms) all report that culture issues were the cause.

If everyone knows the # is 100%, then optimism about the culture integration (of M&As) would seem to be negligent at best & self-sabotage at worst.

According to PwC research report “How to Create Value Beyond the Deal”, senior leaders report culture as being critical to business success and essential for value retention in a merger and acquisition; however, few truly understand it (yet proceed as if “this time” it will work out fine.)
There are obviously, better options available than leaving money on the table due to optimism, impotence and surrender. This all sounds like too much unnecessary suffering and permanent damage if you ask me. A new approach is needed to support leaders responsible for merging separate cultures more successfully. 


“Buyers and sellers both are saying culture and people need to be the highest priority from day one.” – PwC

Culture is such an obvious driver of value, but “many are scarred” by overestimating their own competency and underestimating the importance (but not in hindsight). Many have learned the hard way that changing culture requires experts in both the technical and human competency of changing culture.

  • 65% of companies (and 57% of private equity dealmakers) say cultural issues hampered the creation of value in addition to the 100% that said it caused value loss
  • 83% of the deals that lost significant value saw between 21% – 30% of key talent leave the business


The PwC research goes on to recommend: “Put culture at the heart of the deal: Keeping people and cultural aspects up front in planning is fundamental. Failing to plan for cultural change will undermine the value created. In the face of disruption across all industries, it is important to ensure these core elements are all working in harmony to ensure maximum returns, effective integration and long-term value creation.”

“Culture, if poorly managed, can absolutely be a deal-breaker” — Iñaki Cobo of KKR London

McKinsey & Company agrees: “Understanding culture, and proactively managing it, is critical to a successful integration. This requires a comprehensive approach. Cultural factors and organizational alignment are critical to success (and avoiding failure) in mergers. Yet leaders often don’t give culture the attention it warrants—an oversight that can lead to poor results.”
Leaders get a lot of things right on the tangible and technical side of the integration but often overlook the human side due to their lack of understanding/culture competency – it is a costly blindspot.

If only a fraction of the deal cost was invested in culture competency, many of the significant losses could be avoided and the likelihood for exponential value to be created would be significantly increased. What gets in the way? The hubris or lack of awareness is baffling – why do leaders keep repeating this mistake over and over while doing all the technical things right? Perhaps it’s because on the surface, they believe they are doing enough and it looks like things are going ok – many things do go very well…
Dedicated new team time: Both parties usually demonstrate a sincere openness to working together. Space is usually opened for people to share how they feel, acknowledge the different backgrounds, and highlight concerns and opportunities.
Strong leadership steps up to get things done: Usually, leaders are willing to step up and take on tasks and difficult challenges moving forward. There is a strong focus on action and getting things done.
A high level of business knowledge: On both sides, the knowledge and understanding of the business is usually high. (However, usually the knowledge and understanding of the human side of change/integration is not as high.)
Strong leaders role model well: Some leaders effectively and/or intuitively role model the type of culture they want to see.
A. We need to work inside out with an understanding that change starts from within: Persistent ineffective mindsets are the biggest blockers. From a cognitive level to new habits, mindset shifts from fixed to growth, victim to player and knower to learner need practice. It typically appears that the acquirer’s integration investment in the culture/people dimension has been ad hoc and limited, reflecting a “hope for the best outcome” versus a guarantee and commitment for the best return.
B. Significant gaps in leadership’s ability to “listen to understand” and/or seek first to understand, then to be understood: People need help building the muscles/ability to differentiate between opinion versus fact. They do not know how to do this, which in turn creates barriers to being received and understood, despite good intentions. Interactions improve when people learn to speak constructively and responsibly about issues as well as their own emotional journey.

C. Thinking “win-win-win” requires more listening and empathy: People and teams need support to help them become more self-aware and practice real empathy. For example, many times the acquirer will mention that the existing standards/processes would remain in place unless there was a compelling reason to change. Surprisingly, this invitation for certainty can often create a sense of disappointment among the acquiree’s executives.
D. There are pros and cons of the “acquirer’s way” for integrating the acquiree: Become conscious that the acquirer’s way can be very effective for many purposes. Yet when dealing with a culture like that of the acquiree, where they value something slightly different, it can also be a liability.
E. People’s perception of leadership matters: Individual leadership styles matter a great deal during the integration. It dramatically affects how engaging and inspiring they are (or are not), and how they are perceived by others. Many leaders don’t have a sufficient “mirror” helping them to be more aware of their own impact on others.
Here’s how to start strong, preserve the best of both cultures and create value together…

1. Design a vision for the merger to be a model/symbol of the acquirer’s long-term commitment to the “marriage,” to innovation, to people, and to dominating the category. Use a statistically valid model (and practical visual device) to build alignment and to tell the story – e.g., the Organizational Culture Inventory (OCI/OEI®) is the world’s most thoroughly researched and widely used culture tool. Custom diagnostics/models are not better – they are too confusing, they don’t measure the right things and they cost more.

2. Support joint leadership teams to align culture and strategy – start by exploring their culture readiness (as an on-ramp to building shared clarity and alignment) and engage the teams in high-performance team development (individual and collective development/learning journeys).

3. Have joint leadership teams lead the co-creation of a new organizational culture plan with curiosity, collaboration and purpose. Use an expert process, expert model, and culture experts objectively supporting the team. Align the culture with the desired mental models and behaviors of the most senior leaders (assuming the most senior leaders represent the ideal culture attributes – if they don’t then we obviously need to have a different conversation – we will need to work on that ASAP.)

4. Avoid theoretical approaches and work hand in hand with business execution – think of this work as a culture prototype in the context of business. Implement a culture champions program to model culture throughout the organization and continuously gather real-time feedback. Pay close attention to communications coming from global and their impact on regional and local markets. The volume of global communications from different departments can be overwhelming and result in a lack of focus locally. Make sure communications are aligned behind a common vision for priorities
5. Measure the culture progress by identifying tangible metrics that allow for assessing the degree of progress.

Now that we have busted the belief that you need everyone on board in order to start a culture transformation process, we will add an additional layer to that belief — the belief or myth that you need to start such a process at the top, with the most senior leaders, the CEO or the Executive Committee.
But do you really need them to start?
Of course, it is an ideal scenario to have the top leadership of your organization leading the culture transformation efforts — the leaders who are role-modeling the behaviors of the desired culture and are fully engaged in the process. In our experience helping global companies with culture transformation, this only happen in about half of the cases.
Remember the story in the previous article about the large manufacturing organization and how we engaged with a single team at the time. Other teams took notice and engaged with the HR team to set the teams up with their own leadership development programs, and slowly the culture change in the organization began to grow more and more obvious. After four years of working with different teams, business units and leaders, the CEO started to take notice. The overall performance of the organization kept improving, and he realized the new organizational culture was the driver for this. The organization’s board, including the CEO, is now embarking on their own leadership development journey to take the culture transformation to another level. This program will cascade to other leaders in the organization who have not yet participated. The HR team never lost sight of their ultimate desire to change the culture, but they focused their energy on those willing to engage, eventually impacting the 56,000+ employees.
Instead of focusing on who is not on board (e.g., your CEO), how can you focus on who is? Just like the innovators and early adopters, can you find a leader or a team that has the energy, engagement and appetite to start something new? The more you focus on who is on board instead of focusing on who is not, the more likely you will see those who are, and there are more than you had imaged. You just didn’t see them.
Just think about when you had set the intention of buying a new car, for example. All of a sudden, you are much more conscious about the cars around you — the colors, the ones you want, the ones you don’t like, the model, the make. You see those same cars every day on your commute, but when you actually put your focus on them, you are more aware or conscious of them.