Ron’s focus is on helping leaders build high-performance cultures. Ron has spent the past 35 years helping organizations effect positive, sustainable and bottom-line-enhancing change. He has been involved in organizational transformation in Canada, the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Europe and South Africa. Ron also works with the managers of these organizations, taking them through a process of personal transformation that enables them to build the behaviours and competencies needed for leadership in times of rapid and ongoing change.
Ron is a noted speaker on the topics of leadership and cultural change. Ron is sought by CEOs and other senior executives as a leadership coach. His work on organizational transformation has been featured in CIO Canada and his white papers on public-private partnerships have been published in the UK’s Local Government Chronicle and Outsource magazines.
His recently released book, Building Organizations that Leap Tall Buildings in a Single Bound, is a leader’s guide to the building of a high-performance culture.
Culture is one of the most important – and most challenging – aspects of organizational transformation. It is also often ignored. This is not surprising. An organization’s culture is all-encompassing and intensely personal, which makes changing it an especially demanding journey.
Transforming organizational culture demands much more than applying a standard methodology. It demands the attention of the organization’s senior people. It demands strategies for change built on insight and compassion. It demands a lot of work and patience.
No organizational transformation can be successful in the long term without cultural transformation. Aligning the organization’s culture with the new way is what leads to sustainable gain. With the right approach – an approach tailored to the specific needs of the organization – an organization’s culture can be transformed into a powerful engine for change. I have spent a lifetime helping leaders implement cultural change so that their organization’s invisible foundation supports the achievement of their transformational goals.
What is the first thing you tell an organization considering transformation? Honestly.
After all the caveats - “make sure you’re really ready to do this, because it’s hard and scary” - one of the first things I say is, “Give me half a percent of the budget for celebration.”
Yes. I call it “Ron’s Rule.” Some organizations initially find it a bit unexpected. So I say, OK, if you’re not going to set aside that much for celebrations along the way, you should double the overall budget now to ensure success.
Look at the statistics: large-scale transformation projects routinely come in at double their intended budget. There are many reasons for this, of course. But one, honestly, is the failure to maintain morale and motivation. You have to celebrate each milestone, the successes along the way, so that people feel they’re making progress and can take pride in the discrete accomplishments. If you wait until the very end… people are going to run out of steam before they get there. This comes back to the caveats. Transformation is hard and scary. People need to be motivated through it.
Has the field of transformation itself changed in the last 35 years?
Without a doubt it has, yes. Organizations have changed, the external milieu has changed. Gone are the days of what I call the Lou Grant style of management. You remember Lou Grant from Mary Tyler Moore, the all-knowing, all-seeing manager who barked orders and kept things running smoothly? That’s not possible any longer. There’s too much knowledge piling up too quickly for managers to actually absorb it all. Knowing and doing have to be corporate functions.
Think about this: in 1935, the amount of codified information in the world doubled every 35 years. Based on studies carried out at McMaster University, this doubling rate, by 1975, had shrunk to seven years. That is, every seven years there was twice as much written information as there had been seven years before.
Today, that rate is approaching eleven hours. You miss a day of work and the world’s volume of information has doubled. No one individual can be expected to keep up. The leader’s job is to align the direction and energy of the organization, not to know everything.
How does a leader go about that?
It comes down to fostering three different kinds of intelligences within the organization: emotional intelligence, relationship intelligence and corporate intelligence. People who are emotionally intelligent can see outside themselves. They know their limitations but they don’t view themselves through the lens of these limitations; they believe in themselves but they know when to ask for help.
Relationship intelligence is about establishing trust. People cannot and will not communicate openly if they don’t trust one another. You have to cultivate trust, so that you can have those kinds of situations we’ve all marvelled at: the boardroom meeting where there’s practically blood on the table because people are going at it so hard, but they’re doing it openly and together because they trust each other.
This ties into the last piece, the culture piece, or what we call corporate intelligence, which is about establishing across the organization a sense of common cause. We’re living in the era of the brightest workforce in human history; people want to be able to look at the world and see that it’s better for their having been here. Rallying people around common purpose is key to leadership today.
You’re obviously passionate about this. Are the rewards worth it?
Seeing people take a sense of pride in what they’ve done, when what they’ve done is monumentally difficult - yes, that is definitely worth it. You see what’s achievable. If you compare the productivity of "normal" organizations to high-performing organizations, the difference can be an astounding 300 percent. It can be done and it centres on the building of the three intelligences mentioned above.
I still take great pleasure in the fact that two years after a transformation project with British Telecom, we went back and interviewed managers who had formerly been public-sector managers but through the project had moved into a new public-private partnership organization. Well, every one of them said they’d never go back to the kind of environment they’d been in before. The new organization was so dynamic for them; they were excited by what they had been able to accomplish within it. That’s immensely gratifying.