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Colin Coulson-Thomas Says Trying to Change Corporate Cultures Doesn’t Work

16th May 2012

Trying to change corporate cultures can be a waste of time according to Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas speaking to change programme leaders in the energy sector at a conference in Amsterdam. He suggested “Too many corporate initiatives in areas such as culture change, corporate transformation and talent management are disruptive, confusing and doomed to disappoint. While people struggle to make sense of them cheaper and more effective approaches are being overlooked.”

Coulson-Thomas, author of a forthcoming report on quicker ways of delivering results, claims “Cultures can be very resistant to change and the same culture may not be appropriate for all corporate activities. Organisations need to build mutually beneficial relationships with people from a wide range of cultural, national and functional backgrounds in changing circumstances”. The approaches he recommends can be quickly implemented in a variety of cultural contexts.

Costly multiyear corporate change and transformation programmes and initiatives need to be replaced by cheaper and more focused ways of quickly delivering multiple objectives, according to the professor: “In competitive, dynamic and uncertain situations there simply isn’t time to waste on difficult, lengthy and disruptive general initiatives to make changes that may not be necessary. Corporate leaders need to learn to work with the people, cultures, motivations and resources they have and use cost-effective ways of quickly achieving multiple benefits.”

Given the large literature on leadership Coulson-Thomas is not surprised at the emphasis put upon leading and the development of future leaders: “In some organisations just about everyone has been on leadership training when what is often required is ‘helping’ rather than ‘leading’. People need to be helped to understand areas that are complex and to excel at difficult jobs. The focus should be on making it easier for work groups in front line roles to undertake demanding activities.”

According to Coulson-Thomas the quicker and more effective approaches he recommends can address particular problems facing the utilities: “Power generators struggle to recruit young engineers while their existing engineers are aging. Where there are nuclear plants to run the consequences of failure can be disastrous. Using performance support can capture and share the experience and insights of those nearing retirement in ways helpful to others. Early adopters have made significant savings in technical support costs, increased performance and reduced risks.”

Too often the Professor finds “People struggle to transform bureaucratic and costly organisations which could be quickly bypassed by providing those in front line roles with the 24/7 support they require to excel, compete and win, wherever they might be, including on the move. Corporate leaders sometimes forget that their organisations need to remain relevant, up-to-date and competitive during a transformation journey. Performance support ensures this happens.”

Coulson-Thomas sees no reason why strategies, policies and behaviour changes cannot be quickly implemented across a diverse, scattered, and international community: “Performance support can change behaviours. It can help average performers to adopt the superior approaches of ‘superstars’. Most people do not rush to work eager to fail. Once shown easier ways of undertaking stressful and complex activities they quickly adopt then. Both individuals and organisations benefit”.

The author of Winning Companies; Winning People also warned of the dangers of adopting approaches such as benchmarking: “Where your competitors are today can be the result of decisions they took one, two or three years ago. Trying to copy where they are currently can ensure that you always lag behind the best. To become and remain competitive you need to look ahead and innovate. Try to understand future aspirations, intentions and plans, and aim to implement more quickly than others.”

Colin Coulson-Thomas was talking on the subject of “Short Term vs. Long Term Continuous Improvement Initiatives” to those responsible for them in leading European companies.  He was the opening speaker at a conference on Business Process and Operational Excellence for the Energy Markets at the Radisson Blu Hotel in central Amsterdam. Details of his forthcoming report on more cost effective approaches to talent management can be obtained via www.policypublications.com.

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas, author of Winning Companies; Winning People and a new report on talent management and creating high performance organisations is an international consultant who has helped over 100 boards to improve board and corporate performance. He is chairman of Adaptation, process vision holder of complex transformation programmes and a business school academic at the University of Greenwich. He can be contacted via http://www.coulson-thomas.com. Reports covering his investigations are available from www.policypublications.com.

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