Cultural Due Diligence Part Two – Window into the ‘How’

Cultural Due Diligence Part Two – Window into the ‘How’

cultural_twoOrganisations that are truly successful in enlisting the lasting support of their people are those that genuinely listen to their staff. Really listen, that is.

One of the most cost effective yet powerful means of engaging every individual in the cultural change process is to conduct Service-Wide Discussions. Known also as Focus Groups, but with a marked difference. While the concept is not new, what is vital is the way the session is conducted. Over many years we have honed and refined a methodology that will generate results beyond the superficial. This refinement has been born from a mixture of necessary and healthy learning. Learning that included proud successes, some humbling mistakes, and tough honest feedback. One aspect of that result insists Management commit to take certain agreed action as a by-product of involvement by all.

Through these Service-Wide Discussions, we are creating a forum in which every employee’s voice can be heard. Heard with clarity, support, even when it stings. In fact, especially when it stings. We invite voices with the view to making a difference for all concerned. In turn, this will create a level of expectation from participants. Those expectations must be honoured and sensitively managed. Through commitment from the senior management team, expectations can be monitored through the sponsorship of appropriate projects or actions emanating from these discussion groups.
If, as a manager and leader, you are not prepared to abide by this undertaking, read no further. It’s just not worth the risk. I will bid you a gracious farewell and close the door gently behind you.
The action of inaction will be perceived as disrespect by your employees. Disregard for their time and honesty will yield an unpleasant cynicism that is as difficult to remove as mould from blue cheese.
There are some time honoured rules to orchestrate a Service-wide Discussion. These guidelines will ensure the time invested is valuable for both the employees and the organisation. The first of these is discussed in this article. The rest in Cultural Due Diligence – Part 3.

Rule #1 – Employ An External Facilitator

The great Cardinal Sin lies in ignoring Rule #1.
“Why go to the trouble” you might well say? “Isn’t this just another meeting?”

Absolutely not! This is not same old, same old.

kidCarefully planned and skilfully executed, such Service-Wide Discussions can add significantly to the overall staff morale. That morale directly affects service offered to internal and external customers as well as the bottom line. Done poorly, every employee will adopt the memory of an elephant, and just as hard to shift. Done well, they will be equally long remembered. In some instances, they can be a turning point in a company’s history. I have seen this happen and celebrated with more than one person shedding a tear.

“But why an external person? Why not save money and use our own people? They lead meetings all the time.” An understandable sentiment.

This is no ordinary meeting. It’s ramifications are significant. The message of the way the meetings are conducted will spread like eager jungle drums. The beat will be taken up as others hear of their experience.

This is not child’s play. Nor is being a parent. Yet we do want people to remain engaged around the kitchen table, share their toys and expertise, and invest their imagination in what could be.

Unfortunately, an internal person will not be optimal, for two major reasons:

    1. Politics
      Politics impact on openness and trust. If your organisation is serious about bringing cultures together, then a person who is completely separate from the politics of the organisation must be engaged. Participants will not be as open or honest if the facilitator is from management or, indeed, any level of the company. Even if that person is well liked, they will inherently carry their own agenda and bring that to the table.
    2. The manager-follower effect
      When a manager speaks, employees often stop thinking. Usually, they go along with the manager’s agenda, even though that agenda may be harmful.Researchers have found that the effect of leaving it to the supervisors is so strong that people will go along with the ‘boss’s’ opinion, even if it can lead to loss of life.

      Cialdini, a well known researcher, reported an aviation led experiment in simulated flying conditions. He noted that in a majority of cases, the co pilot and navigator failed to intervene when the pilot (deliberately) made mistakes that would have lead to a crash. Therefore, it follows a company official may unwittingly, or knowingly, restrict options, simply by leading the participants in discussion.

      Instead, give the role to a professional facilitator. One who is highly trained in a correct process, one who demonstrates exceptionally high communication skills and one who knows how to engender the respect of a group, quickly and with ease. A tall order? Yes, but worth the effort to find the right one with the necessary maturity to deal with the sticky situations and challenging individuals.

      Such professionals are gifted. They are not that common. Research well the integrity and credentials of any professional thoroughly before engaging them. Your investment will be rewarded immeasurably.

      You are very welcome to call me directly for a confidential discussion.


Seaver, B 2014,‘The best question you have never asked’, LinkedIn, 23 June 2014.

Written by Jill Sweatman

+61 (0)411 11 55 99

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