Change Culture Transformation Values

Culture Transformation? Yeah right!

It takes time to change the roots of the system, the deeply rooted behaviors, the habits, the rituals, and the misunderstanding that what once may have been acceptable is no longer acceptable.

Most leaders have no clue about culture.

No clue. Nada. Nic (Czech). Nothing.

Oh yes, they talk about culture. They convey a belief that they actually don’t understand, but they don’t.

In fact,

Those leaders that talk most about culture probably understand the least.

It’s all talking but no action.

The leaders I know who are good at culture transformation do quietly what needs to get done.

Here’s what those leaders do well.

  1. They don’t declare war on culture. They change what needs to get changed.
  2. They get that they need to go to the roots of culture formation, which is understanding behaviors that have been part of the system for ages (sometimes literally).
  3. They know it will take a lot of effort to change those behaviors. A lot of communication, training, changing processes, repeating yourself over and over and over again.
  4. Most of all, they understand it starts with them. That’s why better always starts with who (who they are and how they behave).
If you witness anything less than the above, it’s window dressing.

Culture transformation requires experts. I’m one of those experts. I know where to start.

Start with the CEO.

If they are not in, forget it.

If culture gets delegated, forget it.

Let me illustrate my point with two examples.

Number one. The Dutch government.

For years deals were made in the corridors and backrooms. Parliament was just a toy the governing politicians played with.

It was the Dutch version of House of Cards. Only nobody died.

Then parliament had enough. Politicians had to go. One after the other. Until everyone understood that something needed to change.

Promises were made. Transparency was guaranteed.

Of course, almost one year later, nothing has changed. The Prime Minister is still there, playing his games.

He talks a lot but did he change his behavior?

Many of these politicians were educated in the Dutch student system. Many were members of elite student bodies based on fraternities and sororities without any diversity.

Student bodies, where behaviors were ‘installed’ very early among ‘kids’ who had just left their parents.

Young brains, receptive to peer pressure, new behaviors, and a lack of a control system.

You need to be strong to survive.

To make things worse, if you wanted to ‘get in’, you needed to go through a ‘hazing’ period to prove you would fit in.

Proof you can confirm and behave the way ‘they’ need you to act to become part of ‘them.”

Behaviors that resulted in strong networks which are still up and running today. Also, in the highest political ranks.

House of cards.

I went through such a hazing period.

Although I picked a student body that was a bit more relaxed, with an eye for the individual and more diversity (for that time).

Those years formed me.

But I never let go of my independent thinking. The fraternity I was part of consisted of some of the most independent thinkers.

Yes, we had our rituals. But you were ‘allowed’ to be different.

The recent years those elite bodies got a lot of heat.

Hazing got worse and worse. Alcohol and drugs got out of control. Young people died.


I’m not kidding.

Last year, after another bad incident, many warnings, suspended licenses, and threats of permanent closure, these bodies promised a culture transformation.

One of these bodies even appointed a dedicated board member to oversee the transformation.

It also appointed a female chairperson.

The promised transformation should have resulted in less offensive behavior, no incidents, more diversity, and more inclusion.

One year later, at a lustrum party (a party held every five years), this gentleman, responsible for the cultural transformation, was caught on audio making the most insulting remarks about women.

It was so bad that I’m not even comfortable writing it down here.

It came down to the fact that women are only suitable to occupy the oldest profession in the world.

Everybody up in arms.

The press all over it. The mayor threatened again to revoke licenses. Introduction period suspended. Responsible people resigning. Politicians upset.

Those same politicians were part of the student system many years ago and are not able to manage their own cultural transformation today.

And so, we have another failed cultural transformation.

Because it takes time to change the roots of the system, the deeply rooted behaviors, the habits, the rituals, and the misunderstanding that what once may have been acceptable is no longer acceptable.

Culture transformation starts from within. Not because someone says so on the outside!

Your turn: Yes, your turn.

Do more of what makes you happy!


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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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