Three Key Elements of Culture Transformation

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As I explain in great detail in my book, The Transformative Leader, the desire to be a High Performance Organization (HPO) is not the distinguishing factor between companies. Everybody wants to be an HPO. It is that desire, along with the concomitant commitment, discipline and actions necessary to become one that separates the Transformative Leaders from the rest. The process of becoming an organization that systematically delivers and sustains high performance involves the creation of a High Commitment Culture (HCC).

In my book, I list 33 distinctions between HCC’s and traditional cultures, a small sample of which is shown below:

  • Shared leadership and decision making vs. Top-down dictatorship
  • Valued and engaged team members at all levels vs. “Haves” and Have nots”
  • Stretching goals, inspired by future possibilities vs. limited by past constraints
  • Focus on commitment vs. focused on compliance
  • Principles and guidelines established to support the 98% who want to do the right thing vs. rules and policies to protect the company against the 2% who don’t
  • Plenty of intrinsic rewards vs. heavy reliance on extrinsic rewards

Culture transformation must start with a leader’s genuine desire to create the desired future state, and the mindset and behaviors conducive to initiating and sustaining such transformation must then be role-modeled by the leader such that their adoption is encouraged throughout the organization. Unfortunately, those organizations who want to be an HPO but have no desire to do the work to become an HCC will continue to half-heartedly dabble in culture change efforts, only to “find” more evidence that they would be better off maintaining the status quo.

Almost invariably, an organization’s seeming inability to transition into an HCC comes down to one simple element: their leader is simply not willing to transform his/her own ways. I have come across many of these leaders and organizations. They are the ones who have to be convinced six different ways that doing this work will pay off—they focus on the reasons why transformation can’t happen—before they commit resources to it. The leaders who succeed in transforming their organizations into HCCs start with the understanding that, despite any reasons to the contrary, transformation must happen. This conviction engenders the belief and related actions that emphasize shared decision making and developing leadership capability at all levels, regardless of what obstacles need to be overcome, even if one of those obstacles is one’s self-image as a leader.

If you can’t, you must. If you must, you can.
— Tony Robbins

The focus of this post is not on those who don’t quite get the value of creating an HCC, but rather on providing some guidance to those who do see the value but need a little help to do it effectively. I have had the pleasure of working with so many of these leaders who inherently recognize that a huge part of their role and responsibility is to constantly transform and evolve the culture. Their questions are generally not about whether they should engage in such activities as training, coaching, and other organizational development efforts, but how to go about it in a way that produces the greatest amount of success and fulfillment for the organization in line with their transformative vision.

I have learned over the years that, while models and standard approaches are important guides, the actual process of culture transformation is unique to each organization and must be crafted based on careful consideration of the desired outcomes, the current status of results, and an assessment of the current culture and the organizational design features that have created that culture. However, with that said, I have also come to recognize that there are three key elements to transforming the culture of an organization that must always be present in order for there to be any chance of success. They are as follows:

1. It is all about delivering and sustaining superior results

I know what you might be thinking. I have placed a great deal of emphasis on the value of culture and that seems to be contrary to this key element. Not really. Culture, or a set of behaviors that culminates in what we consider the culture of a team, is what produces the results. If you try to transform the culture as a social experiment without some stretching goals and an outcome that inspires the organization, the momentum cannot be sustained and, ultimately, it won’t work. You end up with a team that gets along but has neither a sense of purpose to drive them nor a sense of satisfaction to fulfill them.

Some of the ways the intent of this key element can be met are as follows:

a)   Have a clear vision (both results and cultural attributes) to which leaders are committed.

b)   Maintain clearly articulated action plans, even though they will continue to evolve.

c)   Have a robust review process to check progress and make adjustments.

d)   Ensure that single-point accountability for the transformation resides with the leader, even though much of the authority should be shared.

2. Leadership capability is abundantly present at all levels

This is the one ingredient that makes everything else work. Without leadership capability, the organization will only get pennies on every dollar that is invested in other improvements.

Leaders at all levels of the organization must develop:

a)   Mastery of business processes, functional and technical systems, and the culture.

b)   Mastery of Transformative Leadership and willingness to start with themselves.

c)   Individual accountability for their own personal and professional development.

d)   A Servant Leadership mentality, and the coaching skills that go along with it.

e)   The courage to make bold choices and the commitment to implement them effectively.

3. Culture transformation is an integrated approach, not a project

While it is important to have clearly defined timelines, success criteria, and ownership of various aspects of the work, the work to transform the culture cannot be an independent set of interventions owned by a few people in the organization. It has to be built into everything we do across the organization.

a)   Culture transformation is an integrated approach and ongoing process, not a set of tools or a standalone initiative.

b)   Principles and methodologies of culture transformation must be built into work processes, systems, and policies that deliver the results, so that they are practiced every day in the course of delivering those results.

c)   Organizational design features, such as structure, rewards, decision making, information sharing, and so on must be holistically evaluated and modified to create the desired culture.


Transformative leaders recognize the value of transforming the culture that produces the results their organization gets. They not only want to be a High Performance Organization (HPO) but they are also willing to do the work to become one by transforming themselves and creating a High Commitment Culture (HCC). There are three key elements that are crucial to the effective implementation of culture transformation. 

  1. It is all about delivering and sustaining superior results.
  2. Leadership capability is abundantly present at all levels.
  3. Culture transformation is an integrated approach, not a project.

Have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary! As always, I would love to hear about your victories and/or challenges. Please leave your comments below or send me an email at

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