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Larry Senn's insights on leading culture change from more than 40 years of experience in helping organizations create healthy, high-performance cultures

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January 19, 2015


Senn Delaney Chairman Dr. Larry Senn shares his insights on best practices in successful organizational culture change in regular posts as a member of the faculty of This educational website and blog is dedicated to providing workplace culture awareness, education, best practices and expert insights to positively impact society on a global scale.




Recent posts include:

Lessons from leadership virtuoso Les Wexner, CEO of L Brands, and all-around humble guy


The longest-serving CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Les Wexner, CEO of L Brands, was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award by Chief Executive Group. Senn Delaney Chairman Dr. Larry Senn examines the leadership traits that Wexner demonstrates, including passion, growth mindset, a benevolent leadership shadow, humility and a higher purpose of doing good while doing well that have contributed to making him one of the best CEOs of the century. Senn also shares Les's insights on leading, winning together, and shaping the L Brands' culture.

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The cure for hardening corporate arteries? Creating a culture of agility

To survive and grow, and even regain competitive advantage, many companies are grappling with ways to transform their businesses in the face of radical change. They are responding in many predictable and time-tested ways: changing CEOs and leadership teams, shifting strategies, rolling out new product lines, amping up innovation, cutting costs and restructuring. These are all the necessary things to do to react to change, but these actions usually only treat the symptoms of a chronic illness – hardening of corporate arteries – without curing the underlying cause. Companies may be missing out on the most important strategy of all: creating a culture of agility.

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Cultural transformation only comes with personal transformation

In a survey of top leaders by Booz and Company last year 84% said culture was critical to success and yet the majority admitted their culture was in need of a major overhaul. So, how do you transform a culture to meet your company’s needs today? How can you get employees or teams to behave the way you need them to execute your strategies and enhance your performance as well as your employee engagement and the customer experience? How do you get the innovation and agility you need in fast-changing markets? How do you get the cross-organizational collaboration that makes one plus one equal three? You can do that only by improving the behaviors of people.

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There’s no ‘butts’ about it, purpose-driven companies have much to teach the world
When the CEO of one of the nation’s largest pharmacy chains announced that the company would stop selling tobacco products in its 7,700 drug stores, he made headline news and set a powerful example for others to follow. CVS Caremark (recently renamed CVS Health) CEO Larry Merlo put a firm stake in the ground by voluntarily forgoing a source of $2 billion a year in revenue. So, you might be wondering, what was he thinking?
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The first principle of successful culture shaping – The Shadow of the Leader
I wrote about the four reasons culture-shaping efforts fail in my previous post (Organizational culture has reached a tipping point, yet many culture change initiatives fail for four key reasons). But what makes them succeed? What makes some culture-change efforts successful where others become simply another ‘flavor of the week’ training session that never translates into real change? This is a subject of great debate and many theories exist. As we looked for the common denominator of success in the hundreds of culture-shaping efforts we have led at Senn Delaney, the level of CEO ownership and personal engagement won hands down as a key success factor.
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Organizational culture has reached a tipping point, yet many culture change initiatives fail for four key reasons
My fascination with culture began more than 40 years ago when another young industrial engineer named Jim Delaney and I started a process improvement consulting firm not long after graduating from UCLA. I quickly discovered that it was easier to decide on change than to get people to change. I observed that companies, like people, had personalities, and while some were healthy, most were like dysfunctional families. They had trust issues, turf issues and resistance to change. The difference between working with Sam Walton on the supply chain at Walmart and working with Woolworths was like night and day. It was clear one company would succeed and the other would fail because of the mindset and habits of the firms.
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