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Craig Clark

Episode 5: Implement an Organizational Culture Transformation to Achieve a Higher Level of Performance, with Craig Clark

Craig Clark specializes in people. He has spent the past 30 years becoming a foremost expert on the science of human dynamics in the business world. But he is not a theorist; he is a practical change agent who goes inside organizations to drive and positively affect performance by developing and helping to implement successful strategies.

As founder and CEO of Momentum, Craig oversees operations both in the U.S. and abroad. He is focused on growing Momentum’s corporate discipline and leading teams in multi-day breakthrough programs that generate long-term, measurable results.

Craig believes that dignity and respect are the birthrights of every individual. His work with people and organizations is designed to honor that conviction. He also believes that every client is entitled to a real and measurable return on the resources they expend with business consultants. Those two ideals work in partnership and are the foundation for the past and future success of Momentum.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Craig’s background and his business
  • The organizational excellence system
  • Momentum’s three criteria for business
  • How Momentum figures out what their clients really want
  • The services Momentum provides
  • Assessing a client’s culture
  • How to sustain culture improvements past the initial breakthrough point
  • What happens when someone fights against an organizational culture transformation
  • Why this system takes at least a couple years to put in place
  • What’s next for Craig’s business

Ways to contact Craig:

Welcome to System Execution, the strategy and system behind today’s successful companies. Systems can make or break your company but here, we’ll solve your physical, technological and psychological system’s issues by connecting with experts that have succeed in overcoming those challenges in their own business and providing you the guidelines and tools you need to implement those same strategies for immediate results. Now, here’s your host Vera Fischer.

Vera: Welcome to System Execution, a podcast devoted to using processes and systems to drive to a better outcome for your business. I’m Vera Fischer, your host. All businesses, no matter the size, relies on systems. Some of these are physical systems such as factory, some are technological like project management software, while others are psychological systems such as checklist and organizational charts. Many of these systems will overlap in your business. Today’s guest, I’m very excited to share with you is Craig Clark. Not only is he a leader in his field but he’s also a personal friend.

He will be discussing an organizational culture transformation system that has contributed to his success. Craig is the founder and CEO of Momentum Consulting. Craig has spent the past 30 years becoming a foremost expert on the science of human dynamics in the business world but he is not a theorist, he is a practical change agent who goes inside organizations to drive and positively affect performance by developing and helping to implement successful strategies.

After years as an individual consultant, Craig turned to corporate consulting recognizing that any significant world change could occur only at an organizational level. He has spent years developing a transformational approach to solving organizational problems with successful strategies in a variety of cultures, countries and languages. Craig has applied his skills across diverse groups and cultures from Moscow to South America, from the United Kingdom to Australia including an 18 month offsite project in Indonesia. Welcome to System Execution, Craig.

Craig: Thank you very much, I feel totally welcome.

Vera: Good. Craig, I’ve given System Execution listeners a brief glimpse into your background so take a minute and tell us more about you and your experience and then, we’ll dive into your particular system that you want to share with us.

Craig: Okay. I think the simplest I can speak to our business, we are dedicated to working primarily with organizations but that can be a team, a business unit or even an individual but I want to put it in the scale of organization. What I considered to be our sweet spot and our primary focus is helping organizations to achieve a higher level of performance and building that achievement, building that pathway into the culture of their organization so that it’s sustainable.

Vera: That sounds really interesting because a lot of our listeners absolutely are seeking out information on leadership, on entrepreneurism, on solving specific problems but could you go a little bit deeper into what higher level of performance really means? What is that phrase mean?

Craig: Sure, sure. I’ve just picked a term that I labeled that whole thing with, organizational excellence. Now, that doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a term I made up. However, what it talks about is taking a company and creating a culture that demands higher than average, above average results consistently overtime. You can talk about it as companies that produce superior results. In its simplest form, we’re talking about better than most and doing it consistently overtime. The interesting thing to me was it’s not that hard to do.

Vera: It’s not that hard to conduct organizational culture transformation?

Craig: It’s not that hard to do. Particularly given that we’re dealing with human behavior because that is the access to accomplishing that. The common rub we run into is, “Oh my God, you can’t change people.” Well, they can change themselves and they will. When people discover they’re having particular impacts, blind spots and realize that what that impact is on others in the organization or what have you, they’ll actually change. You can build those criteria into the culture, into the fabric of an organization. It’s not that hard. With the caveat, if you’ve got leadership behind you. I would really rather say with you.

Vera: With leadership all on board with this particular approach and/or system that you implement in order to get your folks in that high level of performance over a period of time?

Craig: Yes.

Vera: Well, that is a great segue way because I believe, before we got on our interview, we talked about really what that system that you are deploying really is about exceeding expectations through working and partnership. I know we hear a lot about partnership and what that means but let’s take a moment and talk about what partnership with your clients means to you.

Craig: Yeah. Well, first of all, that starts at the very beginning and we tell people that upfront. At Momentum Consulting, we have three criteria for business: number one, dignity is a birthright for all human beings. Number two, the client is always entitled to a return on their investment, that’s both time and dollars. Number three, we work in partnership. I guess like anybody else, you start with a new potential client, a new potential customer, we’re having a conversation about what they want.

Now what’s one of the things, I think, we’re really, really good at? Listening to what the client wants and more importantly, listening to the part that’s there but not getting said and many times, they don’t know that either. There is a probing conversation upfront about why are they talking to us? What is it that they really want. My personal opinion when it comes to consulting is people don’t usually talk to us unless they want something so they’re looking for something. We’re good at discovering really what that is, not only at the intellectual level but the emotional level. When we can hear both of those in their conversation, then we know we’re on the right track.

Vera: Give me some examples of what people want from Momentum Consulting.

Craig: Essentially, they want to make improvements in their business. The bulk of our clients come from referrals. A lot of our clients come from people we have worked with and have moved on to other companies so they already have a background for some of the things that we can accomplish. Now, what are some of the services we provide: we do executive coaching, we do facilitation, we do strategic planning, we do team building, we do facilitation, we do new team, new team leader integrations.

However, all of those are simply tools or implements that we use to accomplish creating a transformation in the business itself. Now, they don’t come to me and say, “We’re looking for a transformation.” They come to me and say, “Our company is siloed. We’re not really good at talking. We don’t communicate well. We’ve got some breakdowns and some of the people that worked together with the company. For whatever reason, we need to do some team building. We want to have a strategy session but they get out of hand so we think a third party facilitating it would be useful.” Those are some of the common things or if somebody is looking for coaching.

Vera: Craig, whenever you have a client and you’re going to help them with some of the things that you just mentioned. What’s the first step once you’ve agreed that this is a corporation or a team that you’re going to take on? What’s the first step in that process for you?

Craig: Yeah, essentially we’ve already taken the first step which is having an in-depth conversation with whoever reached out to us. Having an in depth conversation to find out what is it they really want, what are they really looking for and at that point, to what degree we can assert or ascertain what their expectations are. Then, the answer to your question is what I call discovery. We want to do interviews, I want to go into an organization or whoever one of our people that want to go into the organization and interview with people and get a view of what is the water they swim in.

It’s interesting, you don’t have to talk to too many people to start getting a flavor of what it’s like in that culture. I never cease to be surprised how willing people are to actually talk to us. They’re confidential conversations. We go in, we just start asking them questions about, “Okay, how long have you been here? What do you do? Good, what do you think you all really do well around here? What do you like about the company? Where do you think you all don’t do so well? Where do you run into issues? What are your biggest challenges here? What’s the impact of the leadership on you? What would you like to see your leaders do differently?” Those are some of the common questions we ask.

You don’t have to have too many of those. Eight, 10, 12 interviews with proper people, you’d get a pretty good idea of what the dynamics of the organization are like. Once you get there, then we’re not equipped to go back to whoever the client is, ideally the CEO of the company, but whoever the client is. It could be the leader or it could also easily be the head of a business group but we are now equipped to go back to them and say, “Okay, here’s what your culture looks like. Here’s what you’re dealing with,” and they will read it and they will realize, “Yeah, that actually is it. They were a little nicer about the way they said it but there it is.”

Then now, we’re in a position to say, “Okay now, if you want to do something about it with us, here’s what we would propose.” Then, we lay out some sort of strategic plan which typically starts with the leader or the leadership body and we’ve started in both places although more times than not, doing a little coaching with the leader first, just both to make that connection, to create the partnership, to have them to slowly realize, “Hey, we’re working in partnership here.” Then, we will reach out to the rest of their group because if you don’t have the top group aligned with what you’re doing? Forget it.

Vera: Now, did you learn that through a series of trial and errors when you first started out, that you had to have that top line investment?

Craig: Yes. First of all, maybe it’d be best to give you a little bit of history. Over the past close to 30 years, I’ve been doing this. Probably the first 15 of those years, largely we were a contract business. Other consulting companies typically would hire us to come in and do things for them and a lot of that were specific programs and so forth. Now, we would go in and do extraordinary work with the team we were working with. It would be a breakthrough event, they would come out of there all excited and then, they would go back into an organization that was business as usual in fairly short order, get tapped down.

We knew how to make a difference, we knew how to produce a breakthrough with a group but if you want to sustain it overtime with the organization, you’ve got to have buy-in from the top and that can be the top of the organization. In some cases in larger companies, we’ve worked with a particular business unit and as long as it’s the top of the business unit, it can work there too. In fact oftentimes when that happens, we’re working with the business unit and all of a sudden, another business unit says, “Hey, what are you doing with those guys?” Because they’re noticing that they’re behaving and operating differently.

Vera: How do you decide the level of folks that let’s say you have the head of the business unit and/or the CEO, how far down do you go in the organization? Is it as far as the CEO or business head is willing to pay for or is it based on the strategy?

Craig: Yes, yes and yes. It’s always how much they’re willing to pay for. We’re always challenged with producing a high enough level of results that they start to realize they can’t afford not to do this. That’s always our challenge. That’s actually a challenge we like, it keeps us honest. Secondly, it varies. Here’s the rule of thumb: remember, we are endeavoring an organizational culture transformation and environment. What is culture? Culture is the unwritten invisible rules that say what you can and can’t do around here.

Some companies are really a stickler for showing up to meetings on time, some are really loose about it and all you have to do is sit in one of their meetings and you’ll quickly know which way they are. Now the culture may say if you’re a sales organization, even if they’re a stickler for time on meetings, if you miss a meeting or you’re late and you walk in and say, “Hey, I’m sorry, an important customer called me. I had to take care of it.” Everybody would go, “Yeah, okay. Well, that’s okay.” That’s culture speaking. In fact, the rule says you can’t do that but the culture says yes, you can.

Another way to talk about culture is it’s what people do when nobody’s looking. How do you do organizational culture transformation? You have to change behaviors. How do you change behaviors? You have to establish what are the behaviors that are consistent with a superior culture or a culture that produces superior, above average results that are consistent overtime. Interestingly enough, they tend to be pretty much the same organization to organization if you look at the organization that you would characterize as having achieved that.

There’s things like we talk straight responsibly, we honor commitment, we stand for each other’s success, we work in partnership, we operate from an ownership type accountability, those are all things you would pretty consistently find. We acknowledge people, we clean up our mistakes. Now first of all, you have to establish with the organization, “Where do you want to go? Okay, good. What are the behaviors you see that would get you there?” We’re usually making suggestions at that point also. Then, it’s about the taking the leadership through processes to give them the skills and tools to behave and build a discipline for those behaviors.

Then, they have to model it through the organization and then, you start pushing it down through the organization which is back to what your original question was. Our rule of thumb is it takes about 20% to 30% of the organization to fully get in that game and get buy-in and then, it starts to send out roots and legs of its own so to speak. That’s the rule of thumb. In some organizations, they were willing to pay the price and take it all the way down.

When we got down to the last couple of layers of people, we actually built a program for them, trained their people and they took it to them. By the way, at one company in particular that I’m thinking of, made it into the top 50 best companies to work for in Canada two years after they started that process and migrated from 50 all the way up to number eight some three or four years later. They were a lending organization, pumped their portfolio, increased it by a 100% over that same period of time. They spent a lot of money to make that happen.

Vera: The return on the investment was enormous as part of your three stipulations of how you approach business. That paid off really well for everyone.

Craig: In that particular one, I would say about 100 to one.

Vera: That’s amazing.

Craig: Personally, our own measure for a great result is 10 to one.

Vera: Let’s talk about when you’ve gone through your discovery phase and you’re starting on implementing the organizational culture transformation and the strategic tools or plans that you’ve put into place and agreed upon what that leader, that accountable person in the organization. What happens when you come across someone who’s not playing, who’s just not going to do it?

Craig: An interesting thing will happen when they get that that’s the new drift around here. Now, most organizations will relate to something like this as, “Okay, all right. This is our new flavor of the month.” That’s the most common thing I hear, flavor of the month. “Our new flavor of the month. Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt.” However, once they get serious, people actually are looking for this. I believe and I have evidence to back up my belief, people actually want to be held to account to do their best and up their game.

They don’t always like it but they actually, I even would say, are hungry for it. It is very much missing in our North American business culture. I couldn’t actually speak about European business cultures and others but nonetheless. Now coming back to your question, the people that like, “No, not what I’m looking for. Don’t want to do that.” They would typically deselect themselves, they will often move on. Sometimes, they get moved on. It’s as simple as this, part of the rigor of building that kind of a culture deals with setting clean, clear, understandable expectations and having people accept accountability for them.

If I set you up with a set of clean, clear expectations, here’s what you’re accountable for, then you either deliver or you don’t. If it’s clean and it’s clear and it’s understandable, we both know whether you’re doing it or not, understandable also means measurable. You either do it or you don’t so if you’re one of those like you ask me about, why if they just don’t want to, well then it starts to become obvious there’s a performance issue there. Now, part of building a culture like that, in coming back to the accountability issue, it’s not just a matter of being accountable for my job or whatever I was hired to do.

Accountability in this case also includes being accountable for my impact on others and how I get my job done. Then even at a larger level, being accountable for having an enterprise wide perspective so starting to recognize that the actions in my area that I take have an impact on other parts of the organization and I need to be accountable for that impact as well. Now, I’m starting to look from a particular area of the organization but looking to see how it fits in the whole of the organization. That’s part of the accountability also. Recognizing that I work in a network of people and how I behave in that network has everything to do with the effectiveness of the network.

Maybe you’ve got a person that’s I don’t want to play and maybe a high producer. Individually, however, there may be a certain amount of toxicity in terms of how they deal with other people. That’s no longer acceptable. Part of the expectations I might set with that person is, “Look, you’re doing a great job but hey, I get a lot of feedback that there’s a lot of dead bodies in your wake. You can’t do that. I’m sorry, you can’t do that anymore. Part of your deliverables this year is I need to know you’re playing nice with everybody else.” We jokingly talk about it and really not jokingly. I mean, really this is no more complicated than sandbox rules for adults.

Vera: I love that.

Craig: I do too. Remember that little book, Everything You Need to Know About Life You Learned in Kindergarten?

Vera: Yes.

Craig: It’s true.

Vera: It is.

Craig: It’s like share your toys, don’t hit, speak nice to each other, don’t spit, don’t bite.

Vera: Exactly.

Craig: We have just developed these adult ways of doing all of those things.

Vera: Just having optics into how you are in the network, sometimes people just don’t see it. They don’t understand how they are part of that network and that their actions really do mean something to other people.

Craig: Absolutely. I mentioned blind spots a while ago which is a big part of the work that we do with groups and so forth. When people start getting feedback about their blind spots? They are often stunned and shocked. They had no idea that their confident way of doing things left a lot of people feeling talked down to, disregarded like what they had to say. I mean, when people find that out, they’re like stunned and then when the people that are saying those things back to them find out that the person is fundamentally unsure of themselves so they got this bravado front, they’re kind of like, “Okay.” I mean, there’s just this whole thing where barriers and silos start to fade away and people began to interact with each other like people.

Vera: How long …

Craig: Sorry, go ahead.

Vera: How long does it take for an average engagement? This entire process takes about how long or a minimum of?

Craig: Yeah. I’d say a minimum of a couple of years.

Vera: That’s a commitment?

Craig: Yeah, it is. Part of that has to do with a lot of the work we do. We’re taking groups off site for three days or so. It’s not cheap. A lot of it has to do with just the logistics and so forth but we can accomplish that in a couple of years, once again, depending on the size of the company. I’m thinking of one company. We’re in one of the four regions they have so it covers a lot of geographical territory. All we’ve done in there but I’m [not quite sure 00:23:44], we’ve taken them off site a few couple of times but primarily, the whole engagement has been coaching. Now, we’ve been doing that for eight years in that company. They are the top performer and they’ve consistently been there.

That’s not what I would consider the ideal way to do it but that’s the way we want to do it and we did have buy-in from the top and we were coaching the people at the top, at least, in that region. They got enough results then one of the other regions called us up one day and said, “I don’t know what you’re doing over there but could you do some of that for us?” We’re like, “Sure, maybe. Let’s talk first.” It just varies but like I said, bigger companies can take a lot longer. Let me just give you a scale for this. The company I mentioned awhile ago that made it to one of the best 50 companies in Canada to work for and stayed there, they were spread across Canada and they had I’m thinking 12, 1,400 people working for them. That project essentially got done in about four years.

Vera: That’s pretty impressive.

Craig: Yeah. Particularly when you’re dealing with a geography like that. I’ve got a mining company and I work with mining companies a lot, I like that business. I’ve got one, a mining company out in Canada right now so they’ve got a corporate office in Toronto and then, they’ve got a mine site. I think, the full-time equivalents on the mine site range somewhere between 800 and 1,000 people, another 100 people in Toronto.

Now, I’ve actually been working in there about five years but it’s only been about two years ago that they really took it on beyond just some different kind of things I’ve been doing for them to begin with. They actually took on a path to the organizational culture transformation and we’re probably eight months away from completing that project so that’s going to end up being close to three years but we could have easily done it in two.

One of the things they want to get worked out was being more efficient and organized so if they were a little more efficient and organized, we could have done this in two. Just to give you some sense about it, you get up to around 4,000 people, you’re probably … I don’t know, I’m just going to make a wild guess and say, a couple of years for around 1,000 people and under and then, add a year for every 500 people after that or something like that, I don’t know. Once again, depending on how big your team is.

Vera: It sounds almost daunting but it sounds like you have that process of how you implement organizational culture transformation and you make that work.

Craig: Yes and I want to go back to it. It always goes back to the original setting it up as a partnership. I can’t remember if I said it or not but I have no interest in being a supplier. I’m only interested in being received and perceived within the organization as a partner and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had customers come back to us and say, “We use a lot of consultants and some of them are pretty good but what we really like about you is we actually get you care about us.” Frankly, that’s about as sweet as it gets because that’s what we’re after, a working partnership.

Vera: Exactly. Well Craig, this has been really insightful about your organizational culture transformation system and I love all the information that you’ve provided us around exceeding expectations, working in partnership and really almost going back to grass roots of human behavior and bringing it around to make it work for people in the workplace. To wrap up our discussion, let’s talk about what’s next for your business.

Craig: Well, we’re primarily focused on the growth mode. In my business, we’re still a small business and my personal target is to hit a 20% to 30% growth spurt every year and that’s really what our focus is on. Given one of the three criteria is every client is entitled to a return on investment, we’re constantly looking to see how are we doing things and what it’s producing. One of the banes of the business for me is, frankly, it’s hard to measure results of this kind.

When people start talking about how much better their people are working together, I mean, they get really excited about it and they’re really happy about it. Now I’m going, “Okay, how do you measure that in dollars to the organization?” Well, they get stumped and frankly, I do too sometimes. Now, a lot of the times you can measure it in reduction and rework or efficiency or reduced cost or so forth. At the same time, how do we measure that?

We’re constantly working on how do we do what we do more effectively, how do we reach into people and turn the light on so to speak about what the company is up to and what they’re committed to and what their role in it is. What are we up to next? We’re up to growing and improving. To me, those two things are combined together. I know a lot of these are about systems Vera so I’m just thinking back over the conversation and I don’t know how linear it would be for a listener.

There actually is a fairly simple template we follow when we go into an organization. I mentioned all the different kinds of things we do, we pull from the menu what’s going to make the difference here. We’re always looking for what’s going to make the difference here. We do have a fairly consistent template that we follow where we start at the top, we do a little bit of coaching, we do discovery, we do an assessment based on the discovery.

Then we come back and sit down with the client and say, “Here’s the water you’re swimming in.” We already know what they’ve said they want, we say, “Okay, based on this. If you want this,” and then we’ll lay out a program for them. Then, we go to work on the program and then, we’re constantly assessing the program as we go through it and we’re doing that with the client. We do work in partnership and we bring it, we bring that to the game. They can’t duck it with us because we won’t play any other way.

Vera: That is awesome. I love that. Craig, it’s been so educational and you’ve provided a few of the nuances that our listeners need to hear regarding the execution of exceeding expectations through working and partnership, your very successful system. Before we go, let’s close out today’s discussion with any final advice you want to share, anything we may have missed and then, tell us the best way we can connect with you.

Craig: Every interaction you and I have has two parts to it. There’s the result to get produced. Now when I say interaction, I mean if I’m having a beer with a friend after work, there is a result to get produced. It may be bonding, it may just be hanging out, it may be relaxation. There is some result to get produced. I just want to be clear, every interaction has some result to get produced.

There is also another part, every interaction there’s some relationship that the result gets produced and people that are paying attention to both are more effective. A lot of people are results-oriented, they’re not paying so much attention to relationship. A lot of people are relationship-oriented and let results slip. Whichever one you’re best at, bring the other one up to that and your world will change, your performance will change. That’s what I would have to say about it.

Vera: Alright, now tell us how to get in touch with you so our listeners can connect.

Craig: You can reach us, our website is Momentumconsulting.com and you can reach me personally through craig@momentumconsulting.com.

Vera: Well, great. Thank you so much. System Execution fans, no matter how many notes you took or how often you re-listen to this episode, the key is you must know that every successful business uses systems to drive to a better outcome. Craig, I want to thank you so much for sharing your expertise and insight to our listeners today.

Craig: Thank you. This was a delight, I really enjoyed it.

We hope you found this episode of System Execution on organizational culture transformation to be enlightening. For free examples, case studies, e-books and more, be sure to visit Systemexecution.com/resources. Contribute to the conversation by reaching out to Vera directly on e-mail at vera@systemexecution.com. Until our next episode, thank you for the privilege of your time.

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