In Conclusion

Learning Leaders Guide Cultural Transformation

Chief learning officers are important when it comes to creating a new organizational culture.


Adapting to the changing marketplace is an important part of the chief learning officer’s job. In fact, CLOs are often directly involved in large-scale change management because change involves learning new attitudes and ways to do things.

Corporate culture exists whether or not it is explicitly described, and cultural tendencies tend to become deeply entrenched and inhibit change. A CLO who has outstanding leadership skills is an indispensable asset and can set the tone for positive cultural transformation.

When transformation is on the horizon, the answer isn’t to throw away everything that makes up the current culture and start over. A CLO with great leadership qualities will know how to draw on the positive things about the existing culture and make good use of them during the transformation process.

Take a client of mine, Virtusa, a fast-growing business consulting and information technology outsourcing company. The company’s transformation challenge involves integrating its high-execution, collaborative culture with that of India-based Polaris Consulting, which it is in the process of acquiring. Senior Vice President of HR Sundararajan Narayanan and Chief Learning Officer Murali Padmanabhan are leading an effort to objectively measure and calibrate the strengths in both cultures as a first step to create a plan that will use those strengths for the benefit of the combined entity.

Creating a mutually reinforcing culture-leadership combination requires hard work and a clear-cut strategy. The specifics will vary, but a few underlying strategies create a foundation for positive corporate culture transformation:

Understand which existing cultural values are important to preserve. This can give the whole team something upon which to gain traction and minimize disorientation during transformation. Values will drive attitudes, behavior and ultimately culture. Russ Klein, CEO of the American Marketing Association, has created what he calls a “Be-Do” culture. The “do” always comes from the essence of an individual’s inner core — values, character, thinking patterns, etc. So, the AMA’s leadership development and succession planning programs focus on measuring and developing the “be” as a foundation to develop the “do.”

Make sure everyone understands why cultural transformation is necessary. The CLO plays a key role in helping to educate employees so they can easily connect the dots between the desired culture and the organization’s goals and objectives.

Don’t try to change everything at once. Cultural transformation is difficult, and in many ways it is a “crawl before you can walk” scenario. Learning leaders guide the process by facilitating the pace at which the company’s learning occurs. At first, focus on ingrained behaviors. Then determine what new behaviors fit with the desired culture.

Include both formal and informal changes. Implementing new incentives and metrics is important, but so is making changes like adjusting workplace networking patterns. Often, these more informal processes need to develop more organically.

Commit to monitor change at every stage. If you’re replacing your IT infrastructure, every step should be monitored closely. Make a similar commitment to monitor cultural transformation progress, and correct course as necessary.

Leadership is the key to positive change that sticks. Cultural transformation requires the CLO to demonstrate excellent leadership and simultaneously avoid giving the impression that change is being imposed by absolute sanction. It’s a narrow road to tread, but changing corporate culture for the better requires it. Along the way, the CLO must also identify new learning objectives and oversee any new development or coaching initiatives to get everyone up to speed.

The importance of learning during transformation cannot be overestimated. At the same time, learning should be inspired by change rather than dictated by it.

It’s not easy for a CLO to walk the fine line between inspiring and directing when it comes to training and coaching during a cultural transformation. But when they are capable of that, the results can exceed expectations for everyone involved, and that’s what positive cultural transformation is all about.


John Mattone is an executive coach and the author of eight books including “Cultural Transformations,” “Talent Leadership,” and “Intelligent Leadership.” To comment email editor@CLOmedia.com.


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