Changing the Culture On A Big Scale


Lately, there is a lot of chatter in the blogosphere about changing corporate culture. Much of it is good, such as this piece by Peter Bregman.

But every so often, someone comes along and says he is going to lead a change in organizational culture on a very big scale. The person I'm thinking of is Lowell McAdam, the newly named CEO of Verizon Communications.

In many news articles yesterday (such as this one), the announcement was made by current CEO Ivan Seidenberg that McAdam would come over to Verizon after a highly successful run as the head of Verizon Wireless. McAdam said: "We will definitely try to bring that entrepreneurial culture from the wireless side into the wireline side." Why? He said that Verizon must adopt a more "entrepreneurial culture" in its shrinking land-line business.

There it is, the Big Scale Culture Change Project: How to bring the entrepreneurial culture from the wireless business into the wireline side, Verizon Communications, to counter its shrinking business prospects.

Talk about a tall order!

How does he plan to pull this off? Reading further in the news articles, some of McAdam's ideas for changing the culture include:

Spreading the Credo: Like many other companies, Verizon Wireless has a set of values. They call it their Credo (as does Johnson & Johnson). You can read it here. The word Customer is mentioned over and over. And most interesting is the final section about Bigness: "Bureaucracy is an enemy. We fight every day to stay small and keep bureaucracy out. We are more agile than companies a fraction of our size, because we act fast and take risks every day. We see crisis and change as opportunities, not threats. We run to a crisis, not away. Change energizes us. We work hard, take action and get things done. Our actions produce measurable results." Impressive words. But the proof is on the front-line.

Working with the Unions: A phone company like Verizon deploys thousands of front-line workers each and every day, most of whom belong to the CWA, the Communication Workers of America union. The culture change must touch the hearts of these people or it won't take hold. This may be the toughest challenge of all facing McAdam.

Developing New Products and Services: With new competitors nibbling away at the old phone business, Verizon must think differently and innovate. The way to think differently is get different people thinking together.

If McAdam were to ask me what else he should consider, I'd offer the following.

Lead the Change: This is now a top priority for all the leaders of the organization. Who are the leaders? Potentially, anyone. Leaders can come from anywhere in an organization. Expand your thinking about leadership and develop leaders at all levels.

Clarify the Challenge: Make it abundantly clear that the stakes are high and that the status quo is no longer acceptable. Jack Welch once said it very well: Change before you have to.

Change the Conversations: Get different people involved. Change the conversation by changing who is around the table. Capitalize on diversity.

Engage the Entire Organization: Make it very clear that everyone has a part to play in moving the culture and transforming the way Verizon does business. Invite everyone to contribute. Make it "safe to say" whatever is on their mind. Listen and learn. Implement as much as possible.

Engage the Customer: Invite the customer to the table. Seek their input. Listen and learn. Implement as much as possible.

This is a massive undertaking. But with commitment, communication, customer-focus, and confidence, it can start tomorrow.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Sunday July 24, 2011.

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