What are the consequences when culture change doesn’t stem from — or start with — an organization’s leadership?

For our sixth, and final, episode of this season we’re thrilled to have Todd Kashdan, Aaron Dignan and Jean-Philippe Courtois back again. They share some important insights. How would you answer the question?

Watch the video, and join the conversation here and on LinkedIn.

If you missed Episode 5 featuring Karin Hurt and Liz Wiseman, make sure to watch it here!



For me, the consequences are: if change starts to bubble up from the edge and we’re not prepared for it at the center or the top, then there can be some disruptive energy and some tension. And potentially, somebody has to decide, who are we? Who are we not? What makes us, us? What’s inside the bounds of possibility for this group?

I think, ideally, you start to see change happening at the edge, and then you notice what works, and you scale it; and you notice what doesn’t work and you ditch it. And so you have a living, breathing, experimental system all across your organization. I think that is the ideal scenario.

And most of the leaders that I work with are trying actively to create the conditions for that. They’re trying to spark change and activity and action in the ranks. So, to a certain extent, I invite everyone to turn that question on its head.


One of my favorite quotes is this one by Leo Tolstoy, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” This is just as relevant when it comes to changing your organization. If you’re asking your employees to transform, you must also be willing to transform yourself. You must be ready to role model the new habits, behaviours and values that you’re asking from them.

I saw this for myself when Microsoft was going through its own cultural change a few years ago. It was asked to transform the entire sales organization, to change how to personally operate as a leader: both to demonstrate they were committed to doing things differently, but also to show my team what change should look like. And I saw this from my own boss and manager as well, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, role model and lead a new growth mindset culture every single day.

It also takes a long time to change a culture in an organization. As I learned myself, people can become demotivated and uncomfortable with uncertainty. But when leaders demonstrate change, it inspires people and helps them to stick with you for the long haul. But you have to role model – and live yourself – the expected culture to make it real for everyone.


When a leader is pushing for organizational change, they’re able to get people to comply, because they dole out punishments and they divvy out rewards. And people will modify their behavior, not because their minds have been changed or their hearts have been won: it’s because they just want stability. But that’s not the rationale for long-term commitment and sacrifice.

Now, when change originates from the bottom up, people who understand exactly how a single behavior leads to pain or pleasure, and how a single activity can be broken down to small parts: some of them are inefficient, some of them are dysfunctional, some of them are unnecessary.

When someone is sharing that level of molecular detail about why there’s a better way, and can envision an aspirational future where there are fewer inefficiencies and fewer dysfunctions, because they understand where you’re coming from, you’re more inclined to get in line and be part of the mobilization towards a better direction for an organization.