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Getting Ready to Take Over? First, Make HR Your Ally and Buy a Whiteboard

Updated: Jan 18


When Bob Nardelli took over The Home Depot, he started making store managers deliver tons of data they had not been required to compile and send in before. The ensuing revolt—exacerbated by the Great Financial Crisis—forced his departure.

Amazon's 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods was heralded on announcement day as a win-win, with Amazon's enhanced ability to collect customer data and Whole Foods' ability to leverage mighty purchasing power. Within a year, the grocery's employees were staging a mass exodus. The reason? Amazon has an almost militant, structured, rules-based, and rigid culture, while Whole Foods has a laid-back culture where innovative ideas and individual judgment calls are encouraged. It turns out these two companies were set up to clash from the very beginning. 

Failures like this remind us that cultural fit should always be considered when a company undergoes a leadership change; when it is not taken into consideration, according to a study by McKinsey, nearly half of the leadership transitions rank as failures or disappointments. The stakes are even higher when companies are facing a significant cultural shift while undergoing a merger or acquisition.

New leaders who want to avoid such stumbles must beware of having an idealized version of their company culture and should strive to see the culture as it truly exists. We suggest they start by seeking out the Human Resources manager.

A good HR Manager hears what the employees say, understands their points of view, fills gaps in cultural cognition between senior-level leaders and mid-level managers, and works with senior leadership to make changes for the good of both employees and the company. Often, they can see obstacles ahead: A recent Gartner study of HR professionals found only 31% believe that culture is the one that it needs to advance. (Gartner Newsroom Article)

Ensure the HR Manager participates as you map how the company's culture will evolve under new leadership. Start with your purpose, mission, vision, and values. Look at your company's behaviors, norms, and rules and how you make decisions and set priorities. Ask the HR Manager and other senior staff how they see the company. How do their views differ from your perspective? Invite them to speak freely to their leaders without fear of retribution. Don't have HR on staff? Your trade associations are an excellent place to find a reference for outsourcing that resource. 

Enabling an environment that focuses on performance and productivity is critical if they want to ensure that the culture they think they have is indeed the culture that truly exists. Deploy a culture mapping process whereby the existing pillars of culture, norms, and values are vetted, discussed, and redesigned to direct the company toward a results-based culture and ensure that all facets of the company are moving in the same direction. Here are a few questions you may consider asking to get you started: 

  • What adjectives would you use to describe the culture here?

  • What was the most significant adjustment for you when you began working here? 

  • How do you see conflict handled? 

  • How do decisions get made? 

  • To what extent are people held accountable for results? 

  • To what extent do people have direct feedback conversations? 

  • How does the organization view failure? 

Many other relevant questions can be asked, but these could provide a good start. 

A cultural mapping exercise requires a hefty dose of open-mindedness and an even bigger dose of humility. Having the right leaders who are strong enough to participate in their cultural assessments actively is critical to the long-term success of your employees and your company.

If you want to learn more about mapping your company culture, contact Misura Group. We empower leaders and help you create strong companies, leaders, cultures, and teams. 

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