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Pressure From the Top

January 10, 2018

Pressure from the top to change.Out Front:

To be a leader often requires that we apply pressure to the team, from the top, to effect change. The leader is “ahead” of the organization. She has a vision that requires the organization to move in a different direction. And she needs to more or less force the desired change to happen.

I recall this happening in a large organization when leadership was faced with the age old problem of getting our sales force to use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program. The president of the corporation made it clear he wanted the sales team to use the new CRM. When his clear statement of desired outcome did not result in action, he resorted to pressure. He simply stated that any salesperson who wished for an executive to visit a customer, for whatever reason, must have all the account history, contacts, and meeting schedules up to date in the CRM or that executive would not visit the customer. Even if the customer requested the meeting directly.

Culture Change:

It should be obvious that many (most?) business leaders have a significant change management task ahead of them. We can no longer tolerate employees creating hostile work environments. The news of the last few months shows that we all have work to do. And, if we don’t, there will be consequences.

The mistreatment of women is a huge problem, but it isn’t the only problem. A hostile environment may not have anything to do with sexual misconduct, but may take the form of a lack of trust between employees, leadership, functional managers, etc. In other words, it is not a safe environment for employees to learn and grow.

I believe that culture change is the most difficult change management project organizations can undertake. I believe that because it is very hard to define core values, even harder to live up to those core values, and generally people do not like being changed. It is also a challenge to hold everyone (ourselves included) accountable for living out the core values.


It all starts with pressure from the top to live out the corporate core values at all levels of the organization. The leadership team has to demonstrate that they affirm and promote those values. Their actions must always be taken in light of those core values.

To borrow from Mike Myatt:  “Values should underpin Vision which dictates Mission, which determines Strategy . . . ” It all starts with Values. Values not only underpin the Vision, they determine how things get done. In other words, values determine the culture AND therefore the context in which employees make decisions and react to the everyday challenges of the business.

We, as leaders, can accept whatever culture simply evolves in our organization. Or we can actively manage the culture. We get what we tolerate. So if we state our core values and then allow leadership and employees to ignore them, we get the culture we deserve. If we hold everyone accountable to living out the core values, then we will have the culture we desire.

From the Top:

I can’t think of any way to avoid having the direction and tone set by the top of the leadership team. If we have people mistreating each other in our organization, then we as leaders own that. CEOs (owners) have only one job and that’s to actively manage the corporate culture. As noted above, the context for decisions made by the individuals in the organization is based on culture (context) which is based on values. There can be no more important task for the executive team. The pressure must come from the top if we are to ensure lasting positive change.

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