Changing Your Culture

Article | Accountability Insights

by | Dec 8, 2009

In a recent blog, we promised to explain how you can begin taking immediate steps to change your organizational culture. Needless to say, culture change and developing greater accountability for results are no longer optional efforts, but have become organizational imperatives for today’s business enterprises. General Motors is a case in point.

Ed Whitacre Jr., appointed by the White House to be Chairman of General Motors on June 1, 2009, the same day GM filed for Chapter 11, is all about accountability and culture change. In his first round of communications with GM employees, the 6 foot 4 Texan and former AT&T boss told GMers that he expected to see visible, positive changes in the company within 12 weeks, and he told managers that they would be held accountable for making real progress toward immediately fixing GM’s deficiencies and inadequacies. Whitacre, it seems, was serious. After only eight months on the job, GM’s president and CEO Fritz Henderson resigned last week under pressure from Whitacre and the board—exactly 12 weeks after Whitacre’s initial round of discussions with GMers about accountability and results. Subsequent to Henderson’s resignation, the board of directors moved quickly to install Chairman Whitacre as the company’s CEO. In his first statement as GM’s new Chairman and CEO, Whitacre, who is both charmingly amiable and disarmingly candid, fervently reemphasized GM’s need for every employee to become more accountable for his or her actions and for delivering profits to GM’s shareholders: “We now need to accelerate our progress toward the goal of returning to profitability and repaying the U.S. and Canadian governments.” Culture change and a new commitment to taking accountability for results are definitely afoot at GM.

To help organizational leaders better manage culture change and drive greater accountability for results, we devel­oped The Results Pyramid, a simple model that identifies how and why people draw conclusions about what to do, and what not to do, in their daily work. Four simple words—Results, Actions, Beliefs, and Experiences—define The Results Pyramid, yet these words capture the essence of why people do what they do, and what they will need to do in the future to achieve greater results. At the top of the pyramid, are key “Results.” Next come the “Actions” people must take to produce those key results. Actions might include tak­ing more initiative, searching for innovation, expanding exchanges of feedback, cutting costs, reducing cycle time, improving hiring and training practices, thoughtfully planning new product launches, or learning how to work in an open and candid team environment with highly skilled and trained colleagues. Then, we move deeper into the pyramid to the “Beliefs” people must hold to drive the needed actions? In other words, how must people think differently in order to take the necessary initiatives to achieve desired results? (to learn more about The Results Pyramid, go to to purchase a copy of the bestselling book on building an accountable culture, Journey to the Emerald City).  For example, what new beliefs will propel GMers to take the crucial actions to overcome GM’s deficiencies, engineer new solutions, and deliver the results required to put GM on an accelerated path to profitability? Finally, at the foundation of the pyramid, we find the experiences people must have to form those new beliefs. Nothing shifts a culture more swiftly than providing new experiences that reinforce new beliefs. The consistency with which these new experiences occur helps anchor the desired beliefs in the hearts and minds of any work group, team, department, division, or entire organization. In the end, experiences create beliefs, beliefs determine actions, and actions produce results. At GM, Whitacre seems more than determined to create a whole new set of experiences for managers and employees—experiences that will shape new beliefs, drive new actions, and translate into new results for the struggling automaker.

Fortunately, we have learned that not everyone needs firsthand experiences to change their beliefs. Good stories are “experiences by proxy” and can, in and of them­selves, both create and sustain new beliefs. Can you imagine the sorts of stories currently circulating around GM about Ed Whitacre and the company’s new mandate? That’s right, stories about taking accountability, implementing change, and delivering results, now! Learning to frequently and purposefully share stories that help your people experience, adopt, and demonstrate desired beliefs is one of the most important, immediate steps you can take to begin changing your culture. Start unleashing the true potential of your people today, and at the same time guide them toward taking the indispensable actions for delivering greater results, by creating experiences and telling stories that foster the desired beliefs. And remember, culture changes one person at a time.

Take the next step to creating experiences that form the culture you want, by clicking here to take a complimentary assessment to survey how effective your culture-building efforts really are.