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The Keys to Transformation and Cultural Change in Business

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Robert E. Quinn, the cofounder of the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan, has said that “One key to successful leadership is continuous personal change. Personal change is a reflection of our inner growth and empowerment.” In business organizations change is inevitable because the challenges of today are different than those of the past and what will occur in the future. Change in business must reflect changing times that create new challenges and opportunities all the while dealing with a changing workforce and increased diversity in the workplace.

A business is a living, growing entity and as such it must adhere to a constant set of values that define its identity just as much as you and I are constantly changing and should adhere to a set of ethical values that define who we are and what we strive to do. While values define us, a set of ethical standards ensure that we live up to our mission in life. We should treat others fairly; be honest and transparent in our dealings with others; treat others with respect; act responsibly; be accountable for our actions; and, most important, be a person of integrity. These standards apply to business entities as well with respect to dealings with stakeholders.

Successful Change

Successful change is unlikely to occur without a commitment to core values that apply to each new challenge a business faces. For example, as an organization goes global it must learn to deal with people from many cultures and some with different values than those of the organization itself. For example, a workforce made up of Japanese or other Asians will likely deal with issues of responsibility differently than one with mostly American workers. In the U.S. we value individual effort and personal responsibility. If one person in a work group makes a mistake, then that person should assume responsibility. In Asian cultures the group is more important than the individual and “saving face” underlies actions in such a workforce. In this case the group might hide the mistake to protect the individual who is responsible or take responsibility as a group, not assigning it to an individual. The implications for change in business is significant. Leaders must learn to adapt to such a culture with increased globalization of the workforce.

Andy Bailey, the chief executive of Petra Coach, has spelled out 16 differences between successful and unsuccessful people. Briefly, here are some of the most important differences.

  1. Successful people embrace change. Unsuccessful people fear it.
  2. Successful people talk about ideas. Unsuccessful people talk about people.
  3. Successful people accept responsibility for their failures. Unsuccessful people blame others.
  4. Successful people give others all the credit for their victories. Unsuccessful people take all the credit from others.
  5. Successful people want others to succeed. Unsuccessful people secretly hope others fail.
  6. Successful people continuously learn. Unsuccessful people ask how they can help themselves.
  7. Successful people are always looking to better understand themselves. Unsuccessful people don’t care about introspection.

Cultural Transformation

Cultural transformation underlies the environment of change. John Mattone, an executive coach and author of several books including “Cultural Transformations,” identifies strategies to create a foundation for positive corporate culture transformation including:

  • Understand which existing cultural values are important to preserve.
  • Make sure everyone understands why cultural transformation is necessary.
  • Don’t try to change everything at once.
  • Include both formal and informal change.
  • Commit to monitor change at every stage.

Successful Leaders

A leader is like a coach who brings together a team of individuals for the betterment of the organization. Successful leaders know that change is essential for success in business and that it is the employees’ efforts that carry out the strategies just how that change will occur. Absent ethical values, the organization lacks a roadmap to guide the change effort because there must be a core set of principles that provide the direction for successful change.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 28, 2016. Dr. Mintz is Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at