The Book Corner - Review

Leading Culture Change: What Every CEO Needs to Know by Christopher S. Dawson

Leading Cultural ChangeLeading Culture Change: What Every CEO Needs to Know
by Christopher S. Dawson
Stanford Business Books, 2010

[powerpress: http://gsbm-med.pepperdine.edu/gbr/audio/fall2010/bookcorner/leading_culture_change.mp3]

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4 stars: Thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating material

According to Christopher Dawson, author of Leading Culture Change, the purpose of the book is to provide a set of frameworks for senior leaders to affect change by shaping organizational culture to reflect corporate objectives. He begins by defining five critical success factors that are essential for shifting culture. Next, he presents a road map for change agents to pursue in building a process to achieve the critical success factors. The initial step, what he refers to as “Setup,” requires the CEO to evaluate the current organizational condition to determine the level of urgency for change. An assessment tool is offered that allows the leader to measure the extent by which the company culture is aligned with its strategy. The color coded scale ranges from “good to poor.” Green (good alignment), yellow (mixed alignment), and red (poor alignment) provide a guideline for the executive in implementing change. The book offers a set of interventions based on the evaluation of the climate position.

Chapters four through seven engage readers in describing the four stages that Dawson identifies as necessary to execute culture change. Following Setup, the implementation process includes, “Launch,” in which he describes the tools, methods, and structures needed to get culture change off the ground; “Propagating the Wave” discusses best practices in change acceleration, human resource levers, and executive authenticity; “Celebrating Progress,” describes how to measure and celebrate movement toward the “Vision Culture,” which is the keystone—the organizational objective.

Throughout the book Dawson provides a sophisticated set of frameworks to prepare senior managers for creating evocative change. Most interesting is the shadow culture analysis that integrates the “Ideal Culture” (i.e., what the organization wishes to be) and the “Required Culture” (i.e., what the organizational strategy demands), which is then compared to the Actual Culture (i.e., what currently exists). The analysis of these overlapping “shadow cultures” produces a picture of the Vision Culture that drives the change strategy.

In chapter eight the author provides a set of “real-world” examples of organizational culture change. He identifies three separate structural scenarios. The first example focuses on creating an innovation culture; the second, examines developing a performance culture for the startup organization or family-owned business; finally, Dawson’ looks at the high-engagement culture that centers on integrating different cultures that would evolve from a merger. The book concludes with an overview of leadership skills necessary to guide culture change. The author delineates a set of competencies the CEO is required to possess to be successful in shifting culture.

The book provides a rigorous model when considering organizational development and change. However, I believe the content has more applicable value for organizational development professionals than the CEO. I do recommend the book for change agents who would be able to use the content to design a strategy for culture change that could be presented to senior executives.

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