Cultural ChangeToday’s business climate is demanding; it rewards only the lean and nimble. To achieve that agility, organizations are being challenged to shift from old-style command-and-control (a World War I term) to trust-and-track—a culture of collaborative leadership.

I’m mentoring a highly intelligent executive who is relatively new in his role. He is trying desperately to get his team to think bigger. He wants to move them from “we can’t possibly do that” to “how can we make that possible?” He needs to shift their mindset.  Have you heard the saying “Can’t is dead—Can-do killed it”? That’s the cultural shift he needs to effect at his company.

I’m coaching him to understand he has walked into an environment where people have been doing things the same way for 10, 15, 25 years. His predecessor led very differently. He had built a culture where all the lower ranks had to do was follow. Now my client is asking them to lead. It is not an easy shift to bring about.

What blocks a culture change?

I’ve asked my client to examine three factors that interact to prevents a shift from following to leading:

  1. Skills: Do your people know how to do what you’re asking them to do?
  2. Will: Are your people willing to perform the required heavy lifting?
  3. Behavior: Are the right behaviors in place to drive this desired outcome?

Breaking it down like this helped this particular executive see the nature of his problem. It’s very hard for staff to be entrepreneurial in a company if they’ve never experienced being an entrepreneur before. He will need to train them in fundamental skills before asking them to lead in whatever roles they perform. Change is difficult for most people; he will need to inspire them to adapt to the new culture he wants to create. If people are not kindly disposed toward what is asked of them, no one can impact their skill level. And finally, he must identify and reward the behaviors that support a culture focused on outcomes, such as empathy, accountability, and collaboration, to name a few. (I explain more in this article on HuffPo.)

Relationships influence culture

The collaborative leadership approach requires intra-company relationships. Identify key people in the teams you lead and take them out to lunch, or dinner. Get to know them and their significant others. Sit next to them at their desks and observe what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, what they’re after. Does that sound like George Orwell’s “Big Brother”? There’s nothing wrong with a big brother who helps you instead of letting you struggle for days or weeks or months. Come with a “Maybe we can figure this out together” attitude. This is collaboration, not micro-managing. To shift to a trust-and-track culture you must begin to genuinely, authentically, legitimately invest in intra-company relationships.

This should produce the next building block, which is candor. Can you imagine yourself saying, “Nancy, this wasn’t your finest hour. Tell me what’s going on with you.” “Steve, in your need to be thorough, you took a week to do a task that should have taken a day. Help me understand your approach to this project.” A collaborative leader is non-confrontational, but candid. Intra-company relationships grounded in candor are essential to a trust-and-track culture.

Focus on outcomes

The “everyone is a leader” culture my client is striving to create at his company demands an organizational with more focus on outcomes, less focus on the inputs. This is a hallmark of the collaborative leadership approach. If you gain conceptual agreement on the desired outcome, then what people do and how they get there is entirely up to them. Your job as a leader becomes, “what can I do to help you achieve our agreed-upon outcome?” If I’m crystal clear on “I need X outcome by date Y,” you should have a very clear understanding of how much runway you have to work with, how much horsepower you need. Your focus on that outcome will guide your priorities and your resource allocation. You and I must have a relationship based on candor, with clarity on the desired outcome and honest exchange about exactly what that looks like.

To build a culture focused on outcomes, where everyone leads from where they are, empowered to do their part as they see fit, requires one key ingredient: intelligence. Hire the most intelligent people you can afford, because you cannot train intelligence. Intelligent people, even if they don’t know how to do something, will figure out a way. They are quick learners. They ask great questions that often uncover assumptions or unknowns or fresh perspectives. These are the people you need in a “trust-and-track” culture. If you’ve inherited staff that doesn’t have the intellectual horsepower to direct themselves, it’s time to weed.

My client is leading his organization on the journey from command-and-control to trust-and-track. He’d love to go through even one day without hearing “but,” “however,” or “can’t.” My advice to him, and to you, is to be crystal clear on the desired outcomes for the organization, and then go sit next to your people and ask, “What can I do to help you achieve your desired outcome?”

Nour Takeaways

1. Today’s business climate demands a shift to a culture of collaborative leadership.

2. For people to shift from following a leader to leading themselves requires skills, will and the right behaviors.

3. Building intra-company relationships will help you get everyone focused on mutually agreed-upon outcomes.


Nour4212-webresDavid Nour is an enterprise growth strategist and the thought leader on Relationship Economics® —the quantifiable value of business relationships. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, The Nour Group, Inc. has attracted consulting engagements from over 100 marquee organizations in driving unprecedented growth through unique return on their strategic relationships. Nour has pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset any organizations possesses, large and small, public and private. He is the author of several books including the best selling Relationship Economics— Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger) and Return on Impact—Leadership Strategies for the age of Connected Relationships (ASAE).

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