truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth - March 2011

Mark Spring March 28, 2011 : 0

The other night I spoke at an American Chamber of Commerce event entitled ‘Reinvigorating Your Business: how to improve internal communication and hire the right people, time after time’. Speaking alongside me were Michelle Visser, the GM of Manpower NZ; Kim Seeling-Smith, who is an HR speaker and consultant and Alan Casey, an expert in ‘on-boarding’, which is all about how to settle senior executives into a business.

I talked about the journey we’ve been through at dtr since it was acquired in a Management Buy Out in 2006, and my experience in managing change in the turnaround of the business. I discussed how as an incoming CEO I was very focussed on functional change; which stores weren’t performing, the way the stores looked, the way staff interacted with customers, the distribution chain, the way staff interacted with each other…you name it, I looked at improving it.

The only problem was it took me a while to remember that culture and change are inseparable. That to create permanent change, you must first create a culture that’s grounded in aligned values, confident in its own abilities, and resourced to actually sustain it.

For us, building a culture that is confident enough to create change meant starting with absolute brutal honesty. That’s not just telling the truth, its telling the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Only then can we expect the sort of total commitment and buy-in required to get everyone paddling in the same direction. It’s harsh, and sometimes I have to fight the natural instinct to cushion others when the news is bad, but it’s also the only way to ensure employees will be equally as honest with management.

This ‘community of confidence’ must also be grounded in a set of shared values that anchor our belief in what we’re doing. This must be consistent with who we are, what we offer and how we go about our daily duties. Any loss of alignment here and confidence is immediately undermined, and with it any ability to create change. It goes without saying therefore that our values set comes from the employees, the things they believe in passionately, and the type of customer relationships they hold dear, certainly not a value set that is driven down from the management team.

Get these things right (and we don’t always) and I firmly believe you create a climate where driving change is the least of my worries. Getting out of the way so I’m not run over by it is!

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