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Oliver Wight EAME Blog

Why Leadership is Key to Transforming Business Culture

By Birgit Breitschuh, partner at Oliver Wight 

1 September 2016

The world is changing it seems at an ever-accelerated rate. The consumer is becoming more demanding, encouraged by the increasing and globally available variety of choice. New channels are evolving, as well as new consumer segments with fresh demands.

At the same time, business regulations rightfully limit the available strategic options. Some industries are struggling to remain attractive or have been eliminated by ignoring the ongoing market changes. Businesses need to undergo constant change in their offering and go-to-market approach, to stay relevant to customers and to their success into the future. Also the relevant suppliers throughout the value chain respond and the different touchpoints keep changing.

The frequent technological and social changes that take place nowadays mean that years passing by will be the only constant for the foreseeable future. Simply reacting, and trying to adapt to the newest trend makes for poor leadership and is bound to promote frustration within the business. Leaders need to provide the vision for the business - a vision that will be flexible enough to accommodate the trends of the future and ambitious enough to survive them. The higher the ambition, the more significant the goals you can achieve. To paraphrase Henry Ford: ‘Those who believe they can do something and those who believe they can't are both right’. Good leaders create followers – but great leaders create leaders. So, leaders must rid dissatisfaction with the status quo and cultivate a need for change.

To remain competitive, many businesses need to transform their culture by creating a forward-looking approach, anticipating upcoming challenges and taking the right business decisions in a timely fashion. However, like moving from one country to another and adapting to a new environment, cultural change can be really challenging, even when there are existing ‘role models’ -. Needless to say, it is much more difficult to adapt when the desired culture only exists in a white paper given out by management, or even worse by an external consultant. Fear of the unknown is the strongest motivation for inaction. It is therefore of outmost importance that leaders not only describe the cultural change in terms of business needs, but that they also become the first adopters, so they are the role models for the rest of the organisation.

Executives can and must, create confidence for the change journey by walking the talk; people hear what you say but they see what you do. Finally, business leaders need to set the priorities and provide the resources required to support the organisation on its path to reinvent itself. Transformation requires effort before any gain can be harvested. For businesses on their way to adapting or even reinventing themselves, leadership means activating the mental and physical resources within each co-worker and the organisation as a whole.