Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success


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Consultants Can't Change Your Culture

Of course they can’t. You know they can’t and, to be fair, they know they can’t either.

There’s lots of things they can do to provide the building blocks for great culture, such as support for strategy development, insights and research on the essential elements of culture to help encourage a different senior management mindset or field trips to partner organisations that do culture well.

Lazslo Bock, former SVP of People Operations at Google, wasn’t so generous in his book Work Rules: Insights from Google that Will Transform How You Live and Lead, saying, ‘Consultants tend to have shallow and third hand knowledge, often gleaned from a benchmarking report from yet another consultant or from spending a few months with one client or another, rather than from sustained experience.’

I’m not sure I agree with that, but I do know that they can’t change your culture. 

Neither can the senior management team at an isolated offsite. Or the

re-branding by a marketing team.

None of these people can change the culture because, well, they don’t own it. You see, what often gets forgotten is that culture is the sum of everybody within it. It’s a sum of their skills, behaviours, stories, attitudes, beliefs and traditions.

Only the people in the culture can redefine it. Only they can create the vision, agree the behaviours, decide how to work together and make time for new thinking. And only they can reject the undesirable behaviours or poor performance that ultimately holds the culture back.

For their part, senior managers must role-model the behaviours the culture expects. They must live them in plain sight on a daily basis. Whilst they don’t own the culture, through their actions (or inactions) they have the power to destroy it.

Most importantly, senior managers must support the redefinition and evolution of the organisation’s culture. Culture is perpetual and therefore without continual positive action being taken, it can stagnate very quickly.

I spend a considerable amount of time talking to and teaching people about culture and how to build something that is both emotionally intelligent and knows how to get the job done. The most difficult part of this conversation is moving people from a fixed ‘culture change is hard’ mindset, to one where they understand what culture is and the skills required to build a great one. 

The skills needed to build a vibrant culture can all be learned and every member of staff in every organisation, in every sector, in the world should learn them. Skills such as building a vision, running a hackathon, collaborating in different ways and and communicating effectively with different personalities will ensure that the culture of the organisation evolves to something that is relevant and continually fit for purpose.

Consultants can’t change your culture, but you can.

Pre-order a copy of my new book Culture Fix - How To Create A Great Place To Work and you’ll get a signed copy before it hits the shops plus free access to our new Culture Fix Community which will bring the book to life with peer discussions, learning resources and online content. Pre-orders close 20th September.