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Thoughts on Culture Change

Dave Ridley, Southwest Airlines, Alan Webber, Matt White and Adrian Simpson share their thoughts on culture change

We heard before from Mark Allan and Graham Price on how culture change had spread from the top down. This video showing a panel discussion suggests that often it is more successful to attempt change from the bottom up.

Matt White, Connect Client Advisor, Wavelength assures all the listeners that widespread culture change within large companies is possible. It is traditionally said to start from the top and work down but this doesn’t have to be the case. Another option is just to unite a group of perhaps 6 or so people within the organisation who feel the same way about something and literally just start to introduce it. Matt gives us examples of this from the Economist and Unilever.

Adrian Simpson, Co-Founder, Wavelength agrees with Matt that trying to initiate culture change from the top down is extremely hard so possibly an easier way for culture change to start is for someone to set a “shining light example”. He uses the example of the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit to show how one hospital in America chose to do things differently. Once that proved successful of course it was noticed by senior management elsewhere. Adrian points out that, however much someone talks about culture change, it can be very hard to visualise it unless you see it for yourself. This is why it can be very powerful to start culture change in one branch, store or division. If you are successful then others will surely follow.

Alan Webber, author, agrees in part with both Adrian and Matt. He talks about different types of leadership within a company. Historically a leader was “some-one who lived at the intersection of kick-arse and take-names”. This generally used to be one unpleasant person at the top of a company sending orders from above. However, he suggests a more modern and healthy hierarchy is to have lots of leaders at all levels. This allows for much more creativity at all levels and in all areas. Many large companies are extremely slow and dysfunctional but often within them are leaders who have created pockets of efficiency and innovation. That is where everyone wants to work.

Alan is not so optimistic as to believe this will ever spread out to infect the whole company. However, he says that doesn’t matter. You can only control what you can control. He uses the example of IBM. In response to many people and the media predicting their end they brought in a new CEO. He undoubtedly did a good job but Alan suggests that actually leaders within the company who were determined to do everything possible in their area deserve as much credit.

Dave Ridley, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Southwest Airlines, is extremely proud of the culture within Southwest Airlines. He takes this opportunity to stress that this is not something that just happens without constant hard work. There is always an ebb and flow within the departments between having leaders who really get it to times when they are slightly adrift. He says if someone is not happy in the culture where they are working there are always opportunities, however small, to make changes. And if you are genuinely unhappy where you work he reiterates the point made by Grahame Price in the first post, maybe the best choice for you is to move elsewhere.



Adrian Simpson is part of the Wavelength Speakers Bureau. To view his full biography, find links to videos and to book Adrian to speak at your own event go to Wavelength Speakers Bureau, Adrian Simpson.

Alan Webber and Dave Ridley were key speakers at Wavelength Connect event On Your Marks 2013. To view more videos from this event go to On Your Marks 2013.

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