Why Diversity & Inclusion Matters In Organisational Culture

Often seen as a problem for boards, a Human Resources issue, or a concern for hiring managers to address during the recruitment process, Diversity and Inclusion should really be discussed alongside organisational culture.

How diversity is reflected in an organisation and how it responds to inclusion is in its genes, and that its everyone’s responsibility. For however well intentioned, any D&I objectives cannot be achieved unless they are driven by the business as a whole – from senior leaders and executives, through to middle managers and at grass roots. This is the only way to land an organisation that fosters a workplace culture where diversity and inclusion are valued, cultural safety is promoted and the ways in which intersectionality affects our workforce is recognised.

Read "Why Diversity & Inclusion Matters In Organisational Culture" leadership insights

Why It All Comes Back To Company Culture

Recruiters are working over-time to meet the demands of companies that cut back during the global outbreak, and which now are overly reliant on too few steady performers who have been pushed very hard for too long.

As the global economy ramps up, professionals across a wide swath of industry spaces and management job functions are finding once again that they have good options to consider a career move, and more of them are again exploring what’s possible with other employers.

Yet companies planning on the same approach to employee retention may find themselves on the wrong side of the talent market pendulum shift.

Read "Why It All Comes Back To Company Culture" leadership insights

10 Succession Failures And How To Avoid Them

1. Lack of direction from the Board

The ultimate accountability for succession lies with the HR Committee of the Board, but it is no less a fiduciary responsibility for the CEO and the top team. Indeed, anyone privileged enough to hold down a leadership role has an ongoing responsibility to develop a successor.

The need? A far more rigorous approach to Board selection. A periodic assessment of Board "fitness for purpose". A regular review of governance provisions. Appointing adjunct Board members with specialised experience and know-how – for example, organisation culture, technology, the succession process.

2. A broken or incomplete process

A flawed process has one defining characteristic – it's not going to take you where you need to be. Conversely, a meaningful process displays all the attributes of a good map. It allows you to identify where the beginning of the journey is, where you need to get to and the key steps along the way.

The need? A rigorous and transparent succession process that allows the Board to understand the thinking and methodology behind "the names on the charts". A succession process that delivers a distinct and sustainable competitive advantage.

3. Confusing 'succession' with 'replacement'

'Succession' and 'replacement' planning build on very different assumptions. Replacement is essentially tactical - a contingency plan to put into effect should a mission-critical role unexpectedly become open. Succession is strategic - it's about tomorrow's leadership.

The need? Recognise the inherent value of both replacement and succession but don't confuse the two. Leaving a mission-critical role unfilled for an extended period of time can be horrendously expensive. It may even put the very future of the business at risk.

4. Casting too wide a net

The shorthand for focus is "less is more". This is especially the case when it comes to succession. The challenge? To identify mission-critical roles.

The need? Restrict the work on succession at the top of the organisation to mission-critical roles – the roles that really matter; the roles that, if filled poorly, can sink the ship.

5. Confusing 'high performance' with 'high potential'

Like riding a rocking horse, not everyone who 'rocks' is going places. It's a mistake to assume that outstanding performance translates into high potential.

The need? Define the specific competencies that describe future success in both the mission-critical role and the generic competencies that capture what it means to be 'high potential'. Selection isn't an exercise in abstract thinking. Make both succession decisions and identifying high potential candidates evidence based.

6. Poorly defined leadership competencies

A leadership competency describes future success in the role. It also captures the behaviours that separate an outstanding performer from one who is merely middle of the road. Three common pitfalls: falling back on generic terms; a myopic focus; relying too heavily on the manager in the role to capture the characteristic of future success.

The need? A comprehensive, up-to-date library of future-looking, thought-leadership-based, context-oriented, role-specific leadership competencies that embrace leadership balance.

7. Future culture is a "best guess"

Your culture is your brand. Succession based on wishful thinking is to place a blind bet on the future without any understanding of what you are actually betting on and without appreciating the damage you are doing to the brand.

The need? Responsibility for culture lies directly with the top team. What you don't measure, you can't manage. It is essential to (really) know: 1) where your organisation culture is today, and 2) where your culture needs to be to compete successfully in the future.

8. Coaching is "something we need to get to"

You can't grow the organisation unless you grow the people in the organisation. At the heart of 'growing' people lies coaching. Coaching isn't a 'sometime skill'. It's a systemic way to think about what it means to be a leader.

The need? As the business environment evolves, new knowledge, skills and capability are demanded. Without coaching, succession is an engine of future performance that is not firing on all cylinders. Those at the top must strive to become masterful in the art of coaching.

9. Misunderstanding what it means to be a team

It is little short of managerial incompetence to enter into the succession conversation without the key decision-makers stepping back to assess the future nature, needs and norms that shape the behaviour of the team(s) involved. And it matters … because tomorrow's organisation will be a team of teams.

The need? Factoring in the makeup and working approach of tomorrow's team(s) is a business imperative. As is uncovering meaningful ways to assess the team.

10. Succession candidates are poorly integrated into the new role

Derailment, no matter what form it takes, destroys value. If they don't land, they won't stay. It's not just a matter of fulfilling all of the requirements of the new role. The challenge is to do so as quickly as possible.

The need? A comprehensive executive induction process supported by both an internal mentor and an external coach. Assessment tools, access to supportive materials and the full support of both the hiring manager and HR are clearly essential. We have also found that a well designed and easy to access workbook is invaluable.

What next?

There are a good many issues that can derail a successful business. None, however, contain the potency for failure as having the wrong leader in the wrong role at the wrong time. Succession is a critical investment that you cannot afford to get wrong.

Why is succession so often adjudged a failure? Limited strategic awareness is the start of it. Being overwhelmed by the problems of the day is clearly part of it. But, more often than not, lack of practical intelligence is at the heart of it. To speak to a TRANSEARCH consultant about shaping tomorrow's leadership success today, please get in touch.

The 7 Questions Every CEO Should Ask About Culture

1. Does your team regularly have a vibrant culture conversation?

Culture is the often overlooked, all­-pervasive, enterprise­-wide, organisational DNA that dictates whether your strategy lands or if your brand sustains. It's "a way to be" shaped by the past but continuously honed by the emerging business, social, economic, political and customer context.

2. Do you spend as much (quality time) on culture as you do on strategy?

It's become popular to use the expression "culture eats strategy for breakfast." It's colourful, catchy, engaging, provocative … and wrong!

In a world of uncertainty the only thing that is predictable is that your strategy will be "subject to correction". Long after the strategy has been shredded, what will endure is the culture.

The new reality … culture enables strategy.

3. Is there clarity around what has made – and makes – the business successful?

A business exists primarily to create tomorrow's customer. Profit is obviously important but it's ultimately the outcome of doing the former well.

The organisation's culture delivers both the outward looking (why buy from us?) and the inward facing (why work for us?) value propositions. Of the two, the latter is more important. If the brand promise doesn't live inside the organisation it can't live in the marketplace.

4. Are middle managers fully in the game?

No organisation of more than 150 or so people has one single and unified culture. The challenge becomes one of tight­loose leadership: allow local differences to flourish while, at the same time, develop an overarching 'meta' culture that ensurescommon values, consistency, connection, collaboration, caring for the customer and an unrelenting commitment to the whole.

And the group that binds everything together is the "middle managers". Moreover, they are the only group that can!

5. Do you measure culture?

If you don't know where you're going … don't be surprised if you don't get there. What we don't know we can't address. It's difficult to raise the bar if you don't know how high it is. It's essential, however, that the culture measurement express, in business terms, where the organisation's culture is (roots) and where the organisation's culture needs to be (wings).

If you don't measure culture, you can't manage it. No less important, culture is strategic. We need to understand both where we are and where we need to be.

6. Are all of the communication channels fully brought into play?

Today is the slowest things will ever be! Culture and change serve and support each other. In the midst of this ongoing tumult the question becomes "Who owns the culture?"

The obvious answer is "everyone". A more considered answer might refer to the Board, the CEO or even the top team. However, perpetuated through a need for inclusion, self-protection and loyalty to one's immediate group, it is the fluid and highly adaptable informal networks. And who "feeds" the informal organisation? Middle managers.

7. Do you hire/promote with "tomorrow's" culture in mind?

The world of work is changing and the very definition of "a job" is, perhaps, changing most of all. Into this maelstrom rides talent management. The metaphorical quarterback of talent management … who and how we hire.

Getting culture on the right track means identifying the right candidate. Not every now and then … but every time. Who you hire determines what's possible.

Insights from "CEO Culture".

3 Ways To Improve Focus

For someone in a leadership role, focus is dynamic. It's recognising that even a small act can cast a long shadow. For those with a strategic mandate, focus has to address both the here and now and look to the horizon. It is about initiating action, but also ensuring that the way forward supports the culture the organisation needs to create. Focus, for the business leader, thus, becomes a way to think and act that is: 1) rooted in wisdom; 2) shaped by purpose; and 3) immersed in a paradox.

3 ways to improve focus:

  1. Set goals and review those goals as your first action of the day.
  2. Measure the important stuff - organisation culture (today and tomorrow), team effectiveness, why your best people stay.
  3. Ask for feedback regularly; especially from the customer.

For someone in a leadership role, focus is dynamic. It's recognising that even a small act can cast a long shadow. For those with a strategic mandate, focus has to address both the here and now and look to the horizon. Discover 10 ways to improve focus in "Focus and the Power of Paradox".

Focus: The Power Of Paradox

Combine learning-based experience, leadership reach, the ability to "think slow" and practical intelligence and you have a pretty good understanding of what "wisdom" looks like in today's business environment.

Purpose underscores why the business does what it does. Purpose on its own, however, amounts to a "why" without the "how". The framework (behavioural container) that defines the how is the organisation's values.

As the world gets faster, more complex and less stable, focus purposefully prompts the power of paradox:

  • Embracing the context becomes at least as important as understanding the "content" of the problem/issue.
  • Leadership agility necessitates that focus have an immediate, medium and strategic face.
  • An assessment of "Is this issue truly important?" has to be flexed against both the underlying assumptions and the mindset demanded.

Insights from "Focus and the Power of Paradox".

Leaders Are Legacy Leavers

The seeds of greatness are sown in how the leader in question deals with the unexpected, with crisis, with personal disappointment. Many, bruised by failure, dial back on their own personal goals and look for a position away from the heat of the kitchen. Others, stripped of self-confidence, recalibrate their personal value proposition and, as likely as not, look for an "advisory role". A precious few - those with character, those with tenacity, those drawing from a deep well of resilience - see setback as merely one more brick in the road to success.

Few of us are going to literally change the world. On the other hand, not too many of us want to be quickly forgotten. Sadly, the accepted definition of success is somewhat shallow. It tends to focus on the 3Ps: power, position and personal wealth. Ultimately, success isn't about what you have; it's about what you create. It's not about how big your garden is; it's about what you plant there.

Not all leaders are cut from the same cloth: start-up, growth, running a mature business and turnaround demand very different skills. At successive stages of personal maturity different motivational agendas also tend to put in an appearance: "to make a career", "to make money", "to make my family proud", "to make a business" and "to make a difference". Important and rewarding as the latter is, the very best leaders are compelled to do even more. They are on a quest. They are driven to "make a legacy". Legacy leavers believe that they are on a mission.

Pressure from the capital markets makes success in the short term an imperative. An executive who fails to make money won't be around long enough to leave a legacy. To succeed is to dance to the tune played by the capital markets. Legacy leavers understand that but they still do more. They rarely follow the accepted path. They find a better way. They ignore the cynics and the naysayers. They turn a deaf ear to the critics, especially those who themselves have not ventured into the arena. They part company with the timid and those of a tepid disposition. They blaze their own trail. Does that mean they do it on their own? Not at all! They draw like-minds to the cause. Legacy leavers chart their own path.

Insights from "Leaders Leave a Legacy".

It's All About Culture

Culture is only real for as long as those involved believe that it's real. And it's meaningful and sustainable only for as long as those in key leadership roles reinforce that reality through their day-to-day behaviour. What a leader does is far more important than anything they might say!

Without effective processes that support a customer-centric, quality-driven, end-to-end value chain, confusion, conflict and lost capacity are inevitable. Without measurement, organisation culture is destined to remain of secondary importance; overwhelmed by the operational emergencies that all too often dominate decision-making. To lead, to inspire, to take people where they otherwise would not go is to be both artisan and artist. Think of these capabilities as the bricks and mortar (glue) of culture. To instill something that goes deep, to build something that lasts … both are essential.

Culture isn't "out there". It's not of secondary importance. And it's not a project, a by-product of the engagement survey, the exclusive domain of the HR department, a silent drumbeat that echoes from the past, a change management program, and/or "something we need to get to".

Culture is the here and now, it's practical and it's the very essence - one might call it "the soul" – of the organisation.

The organisation's strategy, be it one page or an overly complex plan, contains within it deep-rooted cultural assumptions. All projects and/or strategic initiatives are imprinted by, intended or, more often than not, unintentional "messaging" that shape how those charged with delivering the strategy define success.

In an organisation with a strong and agile culture (StrAgility), the signals that shape culture are deliberate, overt and consistent - that is, aligned with the culture the organisation needs to create. In organisations that have fallen into "culture drift" - we might not invest much time on culture but there is an overall feeling that we are on the right track - the absence of the deliberate cultural intent carries its own message - "the status quo rules."

The dilemma with a philosophy of "more of the same" is that culture changes whether you want it to or not. In an organisation that "manages culture", the signals that emphasise "team" are integral to the organisation's very DNA. To that end, consider the questions below:

  • Is the strategic direction being driven into the organisation a single, linear, unidimensional plan … or is "managing uncertainty" supported by a series of well thought through strategic scenarios?
  • In team review meetings, coaching sessions, business development approaches and all things to do with performance management, is the culture the organisation needs to create: (1) aligned with what tomorrow's customers want to buy; (2) drawn out of sound measurement; and (3) fully supported by middle managers?
  • Are the organisation's values clear? Do those values reinforce the importance of teamwork?
  • The real challenge with strategy is implementation. Meanwhile, turning direction into delivery rests, in no small measure, on buy-in from the middle kingdom. Is the strategy presented as a series of numbers and charts or has it been translated into a compelling story? Information, as the term implies, "informs." The right story inspires.
  • Do the stories that dominate celebrate the lone hero/heroine … or do they recognise that no one makes it on their own?
  • Do the hiring, promotion, high potential and success processes emphasise team fit? As we move to more flexible organisation forms - as the team becomes the basic building block of organisation performance - success as both a team leader and a team player becomes the difference that makes a difference.
  • Does the definition of "diversity" include not just gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and the like but cognitive diversity? The latter recognising the need for teams to be made up of members who not only come from different backgrounds but who "think differently".
  • Is it recognised that, without support and exemplary teamwork from those in the middle of the organisation, the direction the organisation needs to take is likely to remain little more than "what might have been?"
  • Does the organisation's design support or work against a strong team culture? Even a simple carpenter recognises how problematic it is to work against the grain.

"The way I think about culture is that modern humans have radically changed the way that they work and the way that they live. Companies need to change the way they manage and lead to match the way that modern humans actually work and live."

Brian Halligan, CEO, HubSpot

If the competition is managing its culture and you are trapped by culture drift, no matter how good your product, you don't have a future … you have a problem.

FOCUS and the Power of Paradox

For someone in a leadership role, 'focus' is dynamic. It's recognising that even a small act can cast a long shadow. For those with a strategic mandate, focus has to address both the here and now and look to the horizon. It is about initiating action, but also ensuring that the way forward supports the culture the organisation needs to create. Focus, for the business leader, thus, becomes a way to think and act.

Download "FOCUS and the Power of Paradox" today.

What Turmoil in European Football Taught Us About Stakeholder Capital

Occasionally, something enters the public discourse that represents a unique teaching moment. The turbulent events in April 2021, focusing on the English Premier League, provided such an opportunity. What we witnessed was an unforgettable series of actions that opened a window on a poorly understood concept – "stakeholder capital".


It all kicked off when the football (soccer) scene across Europe was thrown into turmoil. On April 18th, twelve of the biggest and wealthiest clubs in Europe (six from the English Premier League) announced that they had formed their own league (modelled on the NFL in the US).

Their goal? The opportunity to increase shareholder value. A move that would, literally, have amounted to billions of euros for each of the "chosen" clubs. As for the turmoil, a closed league – no promotion or relegation – of elite clubs would have inevitably destroyed the inherent competitiveness of the other major football leagues across Europe. Amongst the English clubs that would have been pushed towards insolvency are those with working class roots that go back to the early days of organised football in the nineteenth century.

J. P. Morgan secured the financing for the new league to the tune of £4.6b. Amazon, it was reputed, was in line to sign them up for broadcast rights. To the rest of world football the surprise move was presented as an arrogant fait accompli. A done deal!

Half time

Before the ink was dry on their agreement, however, the so-called "super league" was issued a red card. The unanticipated backlash from all of the other stakeholders – players, managers, fans, government, media, the press, etc. – was so great that the new league was carried off on a stretcher within 48 hours. Apart from having to give up the potential long-term gain, the twelve clubs involved reputedly (collectively) lost an immediate investment of 150 million euros.

Stakeholder value, as represented by the many, totally overwhelmed the financial opportunity being pursued by the powerful and uncaring few.
The Liverpool owner was forced to make a groveling video apologising personally to the fans for his lack of judgement. It's not very often we see billionaires admitting that they scored an own goal. A key figure in the breakaway league – the Chief Executive of Manchester United – announced his resignation. Others in the conspiracy (the Real Madrid President for example) decided to look beyond the negative banner headlines, ignore the thousands of protesting fans, push aside the wide-spread accusations of naked greed and perpetuate the view that they did it for the "good of the game".

If I could offer such individuals any advice it would be to avoid a night out in the north of England any time in the next decade or so.

Final score

As an aside, the "collapse" the failed owners facilitated endorses a leadership competency that should not be underestimated - "cultural reach".

No matter how well-honed a leader's instinct to financial opportunity, failing to fully understand the cultural setting the business operates in can only be described as "an act of crass mismanagement". After three years of planning in secret, that the owners would make this move in the midst of a pandemic is further proof that someone's cultural antenna needs a little tuning.

What can the rest of us learn from this? Apart from the need for transparency and empathy in the midst of a crisis, know that no matter how skilled or aggressive you may be success is, ultimately, about knowing how to read the game.

The company's footprint on the environment matters. Diversity and inclusion are central to how you build great teams. Talent vote with their feet. Reputation in the public domain is hard won and easily lost. Add the need to move decision-making as close to the customer as possible, the proliferation of choice, the expansion of Gig employment that COVID has brought about (work from anywhere), word-of-mouth marketing and the influence of social media to the mix and one starts to understand the ways in which the locus of power is moving from the shareholder (20th century) to a much wider range of stakeholder groups (21st century).

That companies quoted on the London stock exchange now must report (under corporate law) both "the employee voice" and "organisation culture" is a further indication that the times they are a changin'. Tomorrow will be different. Thought leadership is to help light the way.

Key questions

  1. Diversity and inclusion. Because aspects of "diversity" are clearly apparent, organisations are, invariably, fully aware of their ongoing progress (or lack of). "Inclusion" is far less obvious. Does your organisation's strategic agenda embrace an approach to inclusion as it applies to all of the stakeholders?
  2. Cultural reach. Are talent management decisions - hiring, promotion, succession, leadership development, coaching - informed by the organisation culture needed to bring tomorrow's business model to life? In that you can't manage what you don't measure, this implies measuring both the culture you have and the culture you need.
  3. Leadership capability. Is the talent, capability, experience and mindset displayed by the current Board of Directors congruent with the emerging organisation, technology, market and societal challenges your business faces?

Article by John O. Burdett, Orxestra Inc., © 2021. John is the founder of Orxestra Inc. and strategic partner to TRANSEARCH International. For more on leadership philosophy in the 21st century download "Leadership, Learning and Agility: the WAY OF THE DOLPHIN". It is a complimentary download from the TRANSEARCH website.

Agility is a Way to Think

Organisation agility isn't something that is "nice to have". It's about survival. The problem? Culture is a system and like any system only as strong as its weakest part. You can't sprinkle agility on the organisation. You can't add agility piecemeal.

Agility has to be embedded into every aspect of the organisation's culture. Be it - scenario planning or systems; the brand or the behavioural interview; shared values or structure; problem solving or process; diversity or dialogue; compensation or competencies; mindset or measurement; talent management or trust; learning or leadership - "agility" must be a fundamental building block in the organisation's DNA.

From working on organisation culture, it's clear that the majority of organisations are far less agile than the emerging business environment demands. And that shortfall will become an ever more limiting feature of competitiveness. The question becomes "Where to start?"

Agility has to be integral to the organisation's design. It has to be evident in the organisation's value proposition. It has to be built into the value chain and be apparent in every sales and/or service interface with the customer. It's a process. It's a way to act. More than anything else, however, agility is a way to think. It's a mindset. As such, without "leadership" you still ain't got much. Not the leadership that got us here - but a way to be that exudes, encompasses, encourages, and expresses agility in everything the leader does.

Insights from "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis".

Hire With Tomorrow's Culture In Mind

There are four kinds of change:

1) Transactional change – do what we have always done, better.
2) Transitional change – significant change but we have time to evolve.
3) Transformational change – significant change now.
4) Exponential change – increasingly impactful and unrelenting, continuous step change enacted in a compressed period of time.

Transitional and even transformational change have, for a brief period of time at least, a potential end-state. Exponential change is like compound interest, each step is significantly greater than the one that went before. Success leaves its own fingerprint (or not).

Any form of change that moves beyond improving "what is" implies working on the organisation's culture. Here we have to face the harsh reality: the so-called, "modern organisation" – perhaps the 20th century's greatest innovation – is ill-equipped to deal with the scope, complexity and speed of change we now face.

Good intentions and/or edict won't turn a hierarchical, bureaucratic, head and hand way of thinking into an innovative, entrepreneurial, first to market, breakthrough business. Think reinvention … not rework.

In a world where agility, ideas, collaboration and global reach dictate who wins and who fails, tomorrow's organisation will, of necessity, be fast, flat, flexible, focused and structured as a network of networks.

Think of a team of teams … not traditional top-down leadership. Think jazz ensemble … not a marching band. Think work … not employment. Think community … not tribe. Think contribution … not title. Think collaboration … not cooperation. Think ideas … not ideology. Think values … not rules.

As for leadership, the market for talent will put a premium on software savvy, the capacity to leverage big numbers, speed of learning, comfort with ambiguity, personal resilience and the capacity to build community. The dilemma: top talent is going to be more difficult to find than ever.

Think hiring with tomorrow's culture in mind … not hierarchy. Think leading the charge … not being in charge. Recognise that we will need super teams more than we need superstars.

Insights from "If It Can Be Digitalised, It Will Be Digitalised (PDF)".

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