James M. Kerr, Global Chair of the Consulting Practices at N2Growth

James M. KerrJames M. Kerr is recognized as one of today’s foremost authorities on leadership, culture transformation, and organizational design. He is a popular syndicated business columnist and business author.  Jim has built a reputation for doing his engagements “with” his clients, instead of “to” them. As a member of the Atlantic Speaker Bureau, Jim lectures internationally on Vision Storytelling and how to effectively align an organization’s culture with its vision for the future. He is known for his straight-talking style and ability to teach and inspire.

What does organizational culture mean to you?

Every organization has a culture, but is it a culture that has just evolved, or is it a culture that has been created with great intent and purpose – is it a Culture by Design? Culture is more than just the sum of the parts; it’s not only what holds the parts together, but it’s what unlocks hidden value and drives innovation. Culture is the “X” factor that creates velocity in growth and ensures sustainability. It determines values, behavior, business practices and results.

What are the major determinants of organizational culture?

Company culture is driven from the top-down. While not often designed and constructed deliberately, company culture is truly a game of following the leader. If leadership lacks integrity, the culture will run fast and loose when it comes to the facts. If leadership distrusts its staff, the culture will lack trust. Senior leaders define culture.  It’s really that simple.

What is the role of employees in organizational culture?

As mentioned, senior leadership defines culture. Staff follows the tone set by their leaders. But, once there is a leadership commitment to cultural change, it’s the people who must bring their passion for change to the fore – passion for the work at hand, for collaboration, for being helpful and for going the extra mile to get the job done.

What are the common problems associated with managing organizational culture?

Trust issues trump any kind of culture management initiative an organization may pursue. Breakdowns in trust often result from a lack of clarity in: decision-making authority, delegation and empowerment, employee engagement and transparency, and incomplete feedback loops. Growing businesses must be deliberate in building trust across and up and down the organization. If you fear that a lack of trust is killing your business, you can do something to fix it! Sponsor a Trust Program. Once established, the trust program will include training for Leadership, Managers and Supervisors and Staff.

What are the ways to innovate company culture? Any best practices to share.

We have a culture transformation approach called Culture by Design.  There are 8 cultural levers that we enable to help management teams set cultural direction and manage the change that is necessary to establish an organization’s Culture by Design, including:

  1. Strategy Engagement – Is about how management and staff are aligned with the strategic direction of the organization.
  2. Leadership Tendencies – Covers how leaders choose to lead. This lever consists of leaders demonstrating their commitment to the people of the organization.
  3. Focus Orientation – Is associated with where leaders place emphasis. This lever contains establishing a strong sense of “being in it together” within the organization.
  4. Risk Appetite – Explores how deviations from the status quo are tolerated by the organization. This lever encompasses encouraging staff to take action and make decisions;
  5. Innovation Leverage – Is concerned with knowing how emerging ideas and technologies are used within the organization. This lever covers investing in ideas that will differentiate the organization in the marketplace.
  6. Digital Adoption – Is about the degree of digital, AI and data analytics technology integration into the business operation. Higher use shapes culture.
  7. Social Impact – Leaders often talk about the greater purpose of the organization. This will attract different talent to your organization and your culture will change.
  8. Change Adaptability – Examines how change is introduced and managed by the organization.

To close, we created Culture By Design to ensure that every company that we work with is able to design and implement its own exceptional culture by driving its transformation through these 8 dimensions of change in a very deliberate fashion.

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