Is Your Culture an Anchor or an Accelerator for Change?

/Is Your Culture an Anchor or an Accelerator for Change?

Is Your Culture an Anchor or an Accelerator for Change?

A strong, vibrant organizational culture is the ultimate engine for accelerating change and adapting to new opportunities. It can also be an anchor that holds you back and contributes to your downfall.

Which is it for you?

History is littered with once great organizations that allowed their culture to act as an anchor to the past and prevent change. Bethlehem Steel, Borders, Eastman Kodak, and Firestone Tire & Rubber are just a few of the former household names that ceased to exist because their culture couldn’t make change work.

The failures share a number of traits. They:

  • Allowed an appreciation for how things were done in the past to become rigid protection of the status quo. The past has a place, and the principles that form your values should never change. But, adhering to your values must never prevent adapting what you do to remain relevant to customers.
  • Assumed that a glorious past ensured the future. Success breeds comfort, and comfort breeds complacency. Complacency, over time, causes people to stop moving forward. It is Newton’s Law of Inertia applied to organizations with one important distinction –- when you stop running in business, you get run over.
  • Believed their own press. Television and music producer Simon Cowell said, “Create the hype, but don’t ever believe it.” Unfortunately, companies that fail to heed Cowell’s advice stop innovating and changing.
  • Became stuck in bureaucracy. The entrepreneurial energy and enthusiasm of a start-up gives way to people and processes more concerned about not being wrong than fostering an environment where new ideas flourish.
  • Adopted a “we can wait this out” approach to change. This can be open defiance but is more likely to be passive aggression. The public support for change doesn’t translate to actually doing anything different.

Making Your Culture an Accelerator for Change

Artists and athletic teams know that remaining on top is much more challenging than getting there. Individuals achieve their fitness goals only to return to their previous state of health. Expertise—being great at what you do today—is in a constant battle with finding new ways of being great tomorrow.

The answer is to create a culture that lives in a state of conscious and continual transition. Organizations are forced into revolutionary transformation when they fail to evolve. Here are three strategies to help you build a culture that helps you accelerate change.

  1. Be perpetually curious and paranoid. Herb Kelleher famously predicted recessions that never occurred. Reid Hastings said that his greatest fear was that Netflix wouldn’t successfully make the leap from its DVD based video to streaming. Everything comes to an end. Your job is to be scout the horizon for what’s new and what’s next tthat could derail your success or provide the next great opportunity.
  2. Be externally focused and internally driven. The stars in every industry are externally focused on delivering results that matter to their customers. That relentless focus keeps them moving forward. And, they are internally driven to be better tomorrow than they were today without losing touch with their values and principles.
  3. Be ruthless about protecting the future. The first approach to solving a problem is usually the last thing that worked. That’s a fine for most daily challenges. But, an over-reliance on the past perpetuates the status quo and potentially ignores changes to the environment. You can’t predict the future with absolute certainty, but you can anticipate it. This simple question will help you protect the future when making decisions today: Would the organization to which we aspire to become be proud of this decision if it looked back on it five years later?

There are companies that have successfully reinvented themselves. F.W. Woolworth evolved from its five and dime business to become Foot Locker. Xerox returned to profitability from near bankruptcy. IBM changed its insular culture to become relevant in its marketplace. At the heart of every success is a culture that learned to anticipate, adapt, and accelerate change.

The ability to anticipate and adapt is a habit that must be a crucial part of your culture to thrive in a world of rapid change and uncertainty.


Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. His keynote seminars and workshops are informative, engaging, and memorable. To learn more or to hire Randy for your next meeting, visit, email, or call 972-980-9857.