Cornell University’s research on leadership, workplace transformation and new cultures

The ability to respond to change is one of the most widely cited prerequisites for success in the modern business world. When it comes to implementing change it’s worth remembering that culture eats strategy for lunch.

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By Rebecca Booth

Edition 5 – May 2015 Pages 12-13

Tags: leadership • management

Today’s organizations are in constant flux with continual pressure to evolve. Whether the demand originates from organizational restructuring,technological adaptation, competitive pressures,economic constraints,environmental or productivity improvements,it affects people and the built environment. Only about half of transformation initiatives accomplish and sustain their goals,according to a survey on Culture and Change Management by the Katzenbach Center.Among the biggest obstacles to successful change leadership is “change fatigue”1,which is marked by empathy and failure to engage in the change agenda. These barriers pose a challenging arena for a leader to motivate change and maintain the momentum needed to meet the business goals of the organization. Change leaders are in need of methods to inspire supportand energize stakeholder commitment
to improve the success of
change implementation.
Leveraging culture to provide
a sense of a liation, motivate
commitment and to exist as a
basis in formulating the vision
has powerful potential to
improve the success of change implementation.

Change management or change leadership?

Change Management is focused on the structure,order, efficiency and control of the initiative with an emphasis on timeliness,budget,and encouraging people to adapt to smaller scale change. Alternately,Change Leadership,empowers action that inspires change on a larger scale by motivating people to work as a unit throughout the process to define a vision and shape the transformation collaboratively. There is improved risk tolerance when engaging to Change Leadership because

of the energized approach and holistic nature of the process versus the traditional Change Management approach.

There are four fundamental phases to Change Leadership that are vital to the success of any managed change initiative which include:

  1. Inspire Change
  2. Develop an Agenda
  3. Facilitate Support & Maintain Support
  4. Implement the Initiative

Phase I: Inspiring change

The first phase of change leadership involves evaluating the arenas for action within your organization,by initially identifying areas in which improvements can be made to optimize efficiency or performance and secondly,focusing on the gaps or opportunities to enable organizational members to understand and accept change as a benefit. Assessing the change environment of your organization and understanding the nature of your organization is beneficial in creating an agenda that inspires acceptance for change. Developing an awareness of the pace,patterns,limitations and capacity to embrace change is instrumental in the development of a successful agenda. Commitment to the change agenda is further strengthened by conveying a concept of the optimized future state of performance or efficiency. Companies that are the most effective at change implementation are 4.5 times as likely to involve change and internal communication professionals at the earliest stage of planning – when they are identifying the problem or opportunity.2

Phase II Developing an agenda

One of the most-accepted ways to facilitate support for the agenda is to create a vision. A vision is a stable identity that is tied to values and purpose,which connects to the bigger picture of the organization’s goals. A well-crafted vision engages members to achieve a common goal through a shared sense of purpose and exists as the foundation of reasoning behind the agenda.

How does culture leverage change? Culture is the very mechanism by which you motivate people to commit,to identify, and to integrate with the organization3. A recent study from PWC highlights the need for a more culture-oriented approach to change. The findings also suggest strong correlations between the success of change programs and whether or not culture was leveraged in the change process.4 Organizational culture is strongly influenced by core values and vision because they represent the guiding principles and manner in which the mission is achieved. PWC concludes that cultural levers were at least twice as likely to have played a role in change management that had succeeded5. One way that culture can be leveraged to effectuate change is to model solutions that reflect key attributes of the organization’s core values and vision. The chart below lists some common core values,their attributes,the behaviors they motivate and a few associated solutions.

  1. Defining organizational core values
  2. Understanding associated attributes that support the business strategy
  3. Determine what motivates that behavior
  4. Orienting solution to align and support the attributes and behaviors

Conducting a Gap Analysis to highlight opportunities in which performance or efficiency can be improved offers an approach to goal establishment. Referencing industry standards through best practices or benchmarking provides a basis of comparison to assess the current performance relative to standards or expectations. Evaluating assessments of key performance indicators such as cost effectiveness,HR performance appraisals, customer satisfaction surveys and job satisfaction surveys can identify opportunities for improvement. These methods of evaluation enable the organizations to better,define goals,allocate resources,set clear expectations and attain tangible and measurable results.

Phase III: Facilitating and maintaining support

An effective way to facilitate support and build momentum is to create a problem-solving culture. People have a need to affiliate, as well as a desire to solve problems and receive recognition
for their e orts and accomplishments. Change, when led by an emphasis on a liation and collective interest, can help sustain a culture of motivation that provides mutual bene ts to the individual as well as the organization. A leader that approaches problem-solving with an intent to in uence rather than control enables people to mobilize around ideas that build momentum. An example of this approach would be to de ne the desired outcome, suggest a path and allow a group to suggest alternatives courses of action to meet the same objective.This approach is an effective way of using the directive leadership style to de ne objectives balanced with facilitative leadership that encourages autonomy, develops ownership and increases the likelihood of buy-in. Mobilizing support by communicating the common vision and reiterating the benefits is essential to in uencing stakeholder support and sustaining the agenda’s momentum.6

Phase IV: Implementing the initiative

Implementing the initiative entails developing a roadmap for change and requires an action plan and timeline of events. A leader must introduce a support system to establish a continuous feedback loop of communication that informs end-users or fields questions throughout the change implementation. This is best accomplished through the use of project websites, newsletters or town hall meetings. The feedback system can function in a way that informs the need to modify or adjust the change agenda,action plan,or schedule of implementation.The communication channel is a collaborative way to develop
and establish guidelines, policies and behavioral protocols
that require reform as change evolves.The next component of establishing a support system is providing resources to train or educate end-users to anticipate adjustments and adapt to new ways or behaviors. Maintaining commitment to stay on course requires constant cultivation, guidance, and management. It is a sustained process of in uencing, adjusting, and reinforcing the goals and objectives of the vision7.The nal step of implementation involves measuring the impact and success
of change implementation by identifying results realized in key performance indicators. This nal step is invaluable in evaluating the e ectiveness of change implementation and formulating strategies for future agendas.


Leveraging culture as a method to inspire and motivate
the support of change implementation is representative of a dynamic and promising approach to improving the success of change implementation. As the well-known quote, attributed to Peter Drucker states, “Culture eats strategy for lunch” W&P

About the Authors

Rebecca Booth

Rebecca Booth is a workplace strategist with expertise in change leadership, strategic facilities planning and commercial of ce design. She has studied the correlation between the work environment and its effects on human behavior, and has applied this knowledge on projects for a number of Fortune 500 companies. Rebecca is a graduate of Cornell University, with a Bachelor of Science degree from the Design and Environmental Analysis program.
Email: [email protected]


1. white-papers/article-display/cultures-role-organizational-change

2. Research-esults/2013/12/2013-2014-change-and-communication-roi- study

3. From the notes of ILRS509 Developing an Agenda for Change, Cornell University

4. ocl/culture-and-change

5. Booz Allen, 2013 culture and change management survey

6. From the notes of ILRSM513 Establishing Momentum: Managing Structure Resources and Performance, Cornell University.

7. From the notes of ILRSM514 Sustaining Momentum Motivating Through Vision, Cult and Political Agility, Cornell University



…Among the biggest obstacles to successful change leadership is “change fatigue”,which is marked by empathy and failure to engage in the change agenda…


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