Author Archives: Pam Porath

Leadership Development Strategy

Where does leadership development strategy begin? My guess is that you can ask any number of leadership development professionals and not get a consistent answer.


I have been an organizational and leadership development consultant and professional for many years and have witnessed a myriad of approaches that corporations employ to develop their leaders. Some enterprises take a systemic approach, while others seem to tackle development like throwing wads of gum at the wall. As you would expect, the most successful enterprises consider leadership development as integral to their operations and think about it systemically.


In my opinion, best in class organizations begin with the end in mind when crafting their leadership development strategy.   That end, contrary to what you might think, isn’t identifying what characteristics their leaders should exemplify.   That end is actually their customers or their markets.


To make this strategic slant more concrete, let me outline a process that evolved from both my observations and my own executive educational experiences.


The process:

  1. Begin with identifying your key customers or the key markets you either want to retain or where you want to expand.   Who are they? Where are they? What do they need from you? What can you provide them?


  1. Once you’ve identified where your business wants to play, spend a little time visioning what success will look like.   What’s the end result if you’ve been wildly successful?


  1. Next, identify the desired internal cultural characteristics that would best enable your company to meet those market or customer requirements.


  1. Now that you have identified the desired cultural characteristics, you need to do a gap analysis.   What’s your current state culture? Where is said culture in alignment with desired culture? Where is the current culture out of alignment?


  1. The results from the gap analysis give you a clear indication of where to place your efforts in developing a leadership strategy.   While you want to ensure that you reinforce aligned elements of the current culture, the substance of your leadership development should focus on cultivating the desired cultural characteristics that are missing from the current state.


  1. Now you’re ready to shape your leadership development process to meet your market and customer demands.


Leadership development is a process and a journey – take some time to have some fun along the way.


Culture Due Diligence 3

Culture Due Diligence

In the last post I talked about doing culture surveys. In this post I’m going to explore some qualitative methods to do your culture audit.

While surveys give you breadth and quick assessments, qualitative methods such as Semi-structured Interviews can give you depth and nuances. Interview formats can be designed to reflect a broad-based scan of how leaders perceive their organization and think about their organization vis-à-vis the external environment. Other questions might be developed to elicit illustrative examples about success profiles, cultural icons (heroes and villains), sayings and organizational myths.   Questions such as ‘who are the heroes around here?’ or ‘what gets someone into trouble?’ can provide fabulous insights about the culture to job seekers as well.

When conducting interviews, err on the side of using a few high-value, open-ended questions. Interview a cross-section of employees and thought leaders to provide richer, more diversified insights — especially since leaders often have their own agendas.

The biggest caution in doing interviews is to ensure that the interviewers are well trained and prepared. In times of high anxiety such as mergers, poorly trained interviewers can do significant damage or inadvertently alienate some leaders and employees, which increases the risk of chaotic and divisive transitions or loss of key talent. Conversely when the interviewers are skilled, they not only build rapport and trust, they reduce anxiety and engage employees in planning for the future.

One final caution when conducting interviews is to recognize that in situations such as acquisitions or mergers, there are several reasons for receiving answers that are fronts. Leaders may want to put on a positive face, espousing the language of acquiring company. They may have an agenda of trying to keep their jobs or protecting their employees. Additional probing may provide the interviewer additional clues about the organization’s culture such as “always putting on a positive public face” or “it’s risky to be completely honest”.

Focus groups are another method for gathering qualitative data. The simplest strategy is to identify several key questions from the interview questions and conduct a number of focus groups within the organization utilizing the same sub-set of questions in each group.   The advantages and disadvantages to collecting data in from focus groups revolve around group dynamics and skillful facilitation. Skilled facilitators not only understand how group dynamics impact what participants share, but also recognize that the groups themselves will exhibit some organizational cultural dimensions. Through their own observations, facilitators can really help create a rich culture portrait.

Creating and using all these tools does take time and sustained effort. If time is of the essence or you have a limited budget, start with the less complicated tools such as the Observation Inventory coupled with some interviews or focus groups. These tools are relatively easy to create and train people on how to use. You’ll be able to gather enough information to paint a rich picture of the culture. Surveys as mentioned in a previous post can be costly and time-consuming.

Whatever you decide, consciously focusing on an organization’s culture will give you insights about how people interact and work effectively or not. You’ll learn where performance does or doesn’t meet expectations and what’s getting in the way of current change initiatives. All these clues will enable your organization to make changes for sustainable improvement.



Cultural Due Diligence 2

Cultural Due Diligence


In my previous post, I talked about a couple of tools to do a culture audit, specifically a Culture Observation Inventory and an Archival Checklist. In this post, I’d like to discuss using surveys.

Culture Surveys, when used appropriately, provide valuable, quantifiable data regarding culture. Surveys are a snapshot that can help identify areas of cultural difference for future exploration. A survey is a quick means for getting information from multiple global locations, assuming these locations are large enough to protect respondent anonymity. Surveys give those in remote locations an opportunity to have input. The survey does attempt to quantify cultural dimensions and gives those leaders with a penchant for numbers an idea of where there are some potential cultural gaps. One caveat – surveys should not be used as the only instrument for assessing culture as no survey can get at all the cultural nuances. Plus, if overused, the survey reinforces a numbers-driven culture.

Surveys, if designed right, are probably the most time-consuming and costly to do in-house.   If you really want to use a culture survey, the quickest approach is to use an off-the-shelf product.   How do you choose off-the-shelf products? Well, that’s the subject of another article.


Cultural Due Diligence

Cultural Due Diligence Tools – Tips and Traps

Your organization is merging with another or entering into a joint venture. Or maybe your company wants to improve its effectiveness, perhaps reduce costs or streamline business processes through conscious efforts to change the culture. For whatever reason, your company has made the decision to conduct a cultural due diligence. How do you proceed?

Companies can either choose off-the-shelf tools or develop their own. In this article, I’ll highlight some specific approaches for creating your own tools. Five tools often used to do a comprehensive culture audit:


  1. Culture Survey
  2. Archival Information Checklist
  3. Culture Observation Inventory
  4. Structured Interviews Instrument
  5. Focus Group Instrument (utilizing targeted questions from the interview instrument)


I’ll talk about a couple of tools in this post and the remaining tools in subsequent posts. The “Cultural Observation Inventory” is simply put an organized, structured way to conduct a physical observation of the organization’s culture – a field study of the culture. The basic assumption is that there are visible signs in the physical environment that will give hints about the organization and lead to follow up questions   For example, are all the office doors closed or open? Are appointments kept on a timely basis? Do meetings start on time? How close are the cubes? Rather than make immediate judgments about the organization’s culture, these observations would generate questions I would want to ask.

. With a little research and planning, a team can create their own Observation Inventory. The focus should be on a comprehensive list of characteristics to watch for in the physical environment and observations about the employees. The best tools force the team members to distinguish between their actual observations and their interpretations. People who have used similar types of tools talk about becoming aware of aspects of the environment that they had previously taken for granted and uncovering some of their own assumptions about the organization as they learn to discriminate between their observations and their interpretations.   As an aside, these types of observations can also be helpful for job seekers – especially when given the opportunity to ask follow-up questions.

The ‘Archival Informational Checklist” is a fancy term to highlight the method of reviewing all the pertinent written materials in an organization to gain clues about the organization. Again, the team can create a list of all the documentation they’d like to review and gather the information, making notes about their interpretations. An additional assumption is that if there is an absence of specific kinds of data, such as no employee handbooks or no budgets for training and development, these absences provide other indicators about the organization’s culture.

Acquisition Integration 2

The first step to assessing organizational culture is to have the enterprise’s leadership define what is meant by organizational culture. Organizational scholars such as Edgar Schein have definitions such as:

Organizational Culture = pattern of basic assumptions, values, norms, and artifacts shared by organizational members or “the glue that holds things together” or “the way we work”.

The point is simply to reach agreement on the definition.


After establishing the corporation’s definition for culture, assessing said culture begins with what we can observe, either the actual behaviors of members or the visible artifacts such as mission statements within the organization. Following the observations, the next step is to try and uncover the unwritten norms or “rules” for how the business members should operate and interact with one another.   Those norms are governed on a deeper level by the values of its members — values about what is appropriate or not, values about how people should or should not interact or be treated. At the deepest level we all have basic assumptions about what it means to be human and how the world functions – in essence our world view.   Schein (1991,1999) posits that our personal values emerge from these basic assumptions about humanity, and these personal values drive our norms, which in turn translate into observable behaviors and artifacts.

The best approach to ascertain all of the above levels of culture is to use multiple assessment methods. After leadership input regarding the critical elements of culture, the acquiring team can determine if generic instruments will assess all the critical dimensions necessary for successful cultural integration or if in-house instruments should be developed. At any rate, multiple methods that allow the team to collect data by combining quantitative tools such as surveys with qualitative approaches such as in-depth interviews or focus groups should be pursued.


Acquisition Integration

Cultural differences between organizations, complicated by national or ethnic cultural differences are one of the primary reasons that acquisitions fail to meet their financial goals.   Corporations that successfully integrate purchased businesses pay attention to cultural differences and find ways to either assess cultural fit or implement strategies to foster cultural strengths of both organizations.

When the assessment is done during prior to purchase, the acquiring team can determine if in fact the target company is a good cultural fit. Smart companies have determined that if the cultural differences are too much, integration will be too difficult and the wiser decision is to walk away from the deal.

After purchase, the acquiring company can assess which cultural differences may play havoc with the integration and plan accordingly.

The most successful cultural assessments include several elements such as:

  • Assessing both companies – the acquiring and the target companies
  • Agreed upon, clearly defined dimensions of organizational culture – at least within the acquiring company’s leadership
  • Multiple methods and data points to provide the most comprehensive picture of the organization
  • Shared results and verification of findings with employees in their respective companies
  • Mutually agreed upon plans to address cultural differences between the acquiring and target companies

The two approaches that companies generally use to assess culture are to buy off-the-shelf instruments or develop their own tools in-house. A few companies may combine off-the-shelf instruments with their own. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. Using generic, already developed tools allows for a clean comparison between companies, but this method may not capture all the important elements of an organization’s culture. When an acquiring company develops its own tools, care can be taken to ensure that the critical elements of culture as defined by the acquiring company are measured. The down side of the in-house approach is that people within a given organization may not be able to identify their own taken-for-granted assumptions about their organization’s culture; hence, the tools developed may not be assessing the right dimensions or characteristics.