Changing Corporate Culture – Do You Need a Burning Platform?

graphic that says changing corporate culture - do you need a burning platform?

There may be no greater challenge in business than attempting to change your corporate culture.

In fact, last week an expert on this topic speaking at the University of Colorado’s Conference of World Affairs, stated that it is “nearly impossible and it rarely works.”

It’s easy to see why. Within any business or organization there is massive inertia and resistance. Human nature resists change. Add to that the fact that the culture IS the problem – so there are likely many deeply ingrained dysfunctional behaviors at play – and it’s easy to see why most efforts to change corporate culture fail.

But for those brave, undaunted businesses who choose to take a culture change on, we have some advice – you need a burning platform.

If you are not familiar with the term, it is usually defined as an immediate and radical change due to dire circumstances. The term’s origin comes from a story about a man on an oil platform in the North Sea. One night he is awakened by an explosion. Trying to escape the flames, he finds his way to the edge of the platform. As the fire approaches, he must choose between the certain death of being engulfed in flames or making a leap into the freezing water below. So the moral goes, you must create a sense that making the jump is the only option.

But we don’t believe that cultural change is about mindlessly leaping to avoid disaster. We interpret the metaphor as making a deep commitment to undertaking a major change; basically, that leadership must have the courage and resolve to face the risk and uncertainty of changing the status quo, for the future health of the organization. It is this resolve, we feel, that shifts the moral of the story from a “do or die” imperative, to a positive strategic promise for improvement.

You don’t need a life-threatening situation to create fundamental organizational change, but you do need passion, commitment, tenacity…. and patience. Changing ingrained behaviors of tightly held beliefs that are typically a part of corporate culture is not easy. So to overcome the resistance, you must create the urgency that changing is the only option. Is your burning platform about outdated command-and-control leadership? Is it about a deadline for regulatory compliance? Is it about failing customer service? Or the urgent need to innovate product?

If you suspect your organizational culture needs a major overhaul – or you can smell the smoke from the burning platform from your office – you will need some data to back up that hunch. Give Powers Resource Center a call to help with a cultural survey to see where your business stands


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