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Thursday, May, 28, 2015

Culture Change? Pope Francis Shows Us How


You think changing the culture in your company is challenging? Pope Francis might have a few ideas that will help.

In the past year Pope Francis has steadily made progress in changing a 2,000-year-old hierarchical organization weighed down in old traditions and mired in scandal. Culture is the individual and collective mindset of an organization about how we do it around here. You can't change beliefs through decrees. As far as I know he did not do an all-hands meeting with a big announcement about culture change and a cascading action strategy. Instead, seemingly invigorated by the challenge, he has taken powerful actions that can inform the modern corporate executive about how to make shifts in the culture.

  • Vision. The Pope knows what he wants: to change a finger pointing, rule based culture to one of humility and humanity. That is the beginning  to know what is current, what is desired and to articulate that. People can't engage in culture change if they don't know why it needs to be done and have a picture of what the change looks like.
  • Inspires by Example. Leaders hold the most power for changing culture because everyone watches their decisions and actions and what those reveal about what is important. Everything Pope Francis does and says is congruent with his vision. He spurns the fancy fur capes and palace accommodations and asks the people to pray for him, that he needs their help. He does outrageous things like hopping off his pope-mobile to pose for selfies with young people in the crowd. He uses a staff carved by prison inmates rather than saying people are our most important asset.
  • What he pays attention to and what he ignores. It really doesn't matter what organizations proclaim as their core values. People glean what is true by where leaders put their attention. When the Pope speaks with a softer tone toward gay people, washes the feet of convicts and uses tough language to attack the excesses of capitalism and trickledown economics it broadcasts what he cares about: the disenfranchised and the common person.
  • Courage. The Pope is seen as outrageous by many not too happy with the direction he is taking. He does not seem to have much regard for upsetting the status quo and that takes courage. In a speech to young people last August he said: In life there will always be people with proposals to curb and block your way. Please, go against the current. Be courageous, courageous: go against the current. We know instinctively the leaders who are authentic and stand up for what they believe are the ones we trust and follow.
  • What gets rewarded, what gets punished, who gets promoted, who gets fired or demoted. Pope Francis has done some notable house cleaning. One of the first to go was the Bishop of Bling, a German bishop who spent $43 million on a new residence and complex, complete with a luxury bathtub and private gym. Next to go were four of the five cardinals at the scandal-ridden Vatican Bank. Now he has installed fresh faces that reflect the humility, moral ethics and humanity that he treasures.
  • Hiring practices are powerful levers for signaling what is wanted. Hiring people who fit the culture you desire is essential. When Walter Scott for Parade magazine asked Toms Shoes founder, Blake Mycoski, "What do you look for when you?re interviewing someone?" Blake replied, "If all their questions are about growth and profits, and none are like, How do you know the kids get the shoes that you give [away], that's a pretty telling sign they're not a good cultural fit.

Connie Meyer is president of Performance Partners, a management consulting company focused on supporting healthy, thriving organizations. She has supported many organizations in shifting their culture to support employee engagement and alignment to the vision, mission, values and strategy.

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