• Sam Decker

Three Questions: Change Leadership & Culture with Linda Ford


Such a consultant is Linda Ford, who shares a passion for culture and change leadership and has over 15 years of day-to-day management and training experience in Silicon Valley. The other day we had lunch and I asked her to answer three questions which you may find interesting. Check out Linda’s web site and blog.


Few executives proactively consider culture in their day to day (sort of like unconscious parenting). Yet they affect culture in their day to day actions, and the effectiveness of every strategy, initiative or tactic is largely determined by the culture. At a high level, what do you tell executives they should do differently to create an effective, winning culture that leads to greater business success?

LINDA Your analogy to parenting dead-on. Everything an executive does creates culture. The first and most important thing a leader can do is to determine what “winning culture” looks like in their environment. Not just platitudes like trust, but behaviorally specific statements that describe how employees will know it when they see it. For example, “We ask for others’ input on our work.” When executives have this kind of clarity about what they want, they know how to modify their own behavior and what behavior to reinforce in employees.

Let’s say I’m a frustrated change leader — trying to get our company to embrace marketing metrics, or the voice of the customer, or performance accountability. What are three things you’d tell me I must do to have a chance of making any real progress in an organization that has been resistant to change?

First, ask yourself what your own resistance to the change is about. I know, this sounds pretty touchy-feely. But we all have both sides of any given story in our heads. The leader advocating the change also has a part that fears or dreads the change. Getting in touch with that part with help you understand your employees better.
Second, get people engaged in planning the change. Just think about the irony. You want to make your organization customer-centric. Good idea. BUT you are planning to decree how that will happen instead of having an employee-centric change process. Hmmm. What’s wrong here??? Third, plan on bumps in the road. Determine in advance how you will know if the change process is getting derailed and watch for that. Measure your progress, talk about it in your executive staff meetings – keep your finger on the pulse. Be willing to adapt your change strategy as events unfold. Reality rarely matches our plans.

At lunch we discussed the differences between the Enterprise and what you call the "Outerprise". Can you explain the key differences, and why an Outerprise will be more successful?

The big distinction is what you think of as “inside” vs. “outside.” That distinction really depends on your perspective. If you’re in fifth grade, everyone in the fourth grade is “outside.” But if you’re the principal, all of the students are “inside.” As for the success factor, the technical answer is what systems gurus call “the law of requisite variety.” Essentially this law says that the system with more options or choices will win. An outerprise inherently has more options than an enterprise. (See http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/ASC/LAW_VARIE.html) In business terms, this translates to more innovation in products, processes, etc. And it also means that stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, employees and investors will feel more included and excited about what you are doing. That results in more discretionary effort which results in greater profits.