A recently appointed CEO found himself overwhelmingly concerned about the condition of his service company, as it contained employees who didn’t get service. Almost immediately upon taking over, the CEO did the unthinkable: he told the unvarnished truth. In addition to citing the lack of consistent leadership, he said: “We have a culture that’s lost engagement with the process of serving people in a hospitable way, and we get a number of remarks from customers about how much they love our products, but they’ve just been disappointed time and time again by the service or the experience that they’ve received in our stores.”
The CEO’s public comments were brutally honest, wonderfully refreshing — and necessary. When your company’s culture is not supportive of its business goals, there’s only one way to get an organization to change, and that’s to shock it to its core. Great leaders take the next steps by clearly and comprehensively delineating the behavior they expect, like focusing on improving quality, service, speed, and customer engagement.
But to achieve a cultural overhaul, leaders need to recognize and reward those who have genuinely embraced the new standards. They also must quickly show that the cultural change is taking hold and convince those employees who remain on the sidelines to become active contributors to the new culture. Finally, leaders must identify and rid the organization of anyone who remains rooted in the old cultural norms and refuses to change. Cultural change is a tough business. Leaders don’t sugarcoat the issue or oversimplify the problem.
This CEO just told the plain truth and created a new vision. The essence of leadership is providing a vision coupled with clarity about what needs to be done. Sometimes that process requires a shock to the system.