“But what about culture? I’m not seeing culture reflected in this model,” a Pharma leader mentioned recently on our Leadership Agility webinar. On the screen was the 5C’s of Transition Leadership® model – the anchor point to our discussion around leadership in a world marked by iterative, incremental, and in some cases, chaotic change.

It was a fair question.

Every serious leader understands that culture work is non-negotiable when discussing change and change management. Wendy Heckelman, our founder and chief executive officer said as much as she explained to the group that culture is not a standalone element of the model because it is a consideration that should be woven through every change management decision and action.

And that is only when culture is an undercurrent for good change management. What about when culture takes the main stage as part of a larger, more broadly targeted initiative?

We are starting to see culture development efforts take root across our pharma and biotech clients:

  • Some start at the beginning – defining values and core competencies.
  • Some revisit existing elements – updating competencies and visions.
  • Some dig deeper into what really moves the needle – operationalizing a culture of coaching and development.

A few patterns emerged across these initiatives:

Culture Work Is No Longer Top-Down

Over our 30+ years consulting to industry, WLH has partnered with clients on many organization-wide cultural initiatives. We can attest that culture work today is evolving. Frankly, organizations that approach culture and culture change as they did in the early 2000’s, or before, are getting lukewarm results.

Why? Over the past couple of decades, work has become increasingly collaborative. The days of top-down, command-and-control leadership and business in general are long gone. This shift demands culture building to function as a team sport.

Micro-cultures Are Okay, Inconsistency Is Not

Micro-cultures are a naturally occurring phenomena we see in startups, mid-sized, and big pharma. Each department, each team, and each leader have a slightly different way to approach their work.

But there is a fine line between thriving micro-cultures that coexist under a cohesive organizational culture, and siloed micro-cultures that are chaotically competing for dominance and limited resources. The latter occurs when leaders are left to “get work done” and deliver results without being anchored to the ‘COMPANY’ Ways of Working.

Organizations often find themselves in the weeds of inconsistent messaging when they operate without anchoring to an overarching culture. The result – inconsistent employee experiences, decreased engagement, and potentially serious retention challenges.

Culture Still Hinges On Leadership Interpretation & Implementation

We firmly believe that leaders are responsible for shaping culture. Sadly, we often see this responsibility neglected.

Even among organizations that have solid cultural foundations (e.g., vision, values, competencies) there are almost always opportunities to build leaders’ skillsets needed for interpreting and implementing behaviors that align with the desired culture.

As an example, an organization that wants to drive innovation may deploy a free Friday policy – allowing employees to focus on a creative project, loosely related to their function, that they may pitch in a quarterly meeting. What would happen to a team with a manager who co-opts that free time for other projects? The team and organization wouldn’t benefit from individuals flexing their creativity!

At the end of the day, leaders interpret and implement organizational culture. Their commitment, consistency, and execution can make or break your culture efforts.

If you need support defining your culture, feel free to reach out. WLH brings more than 30 years of consulting and learning solutions design expertise.

Tianna Tye

Tianna Tye provides project management support and content development for a number of large-scale projects for WLH Consulting, Inc. She often collaborates with WLH Learning Solutions to co-author tools on change management, change agility, and talent retention.

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