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Transforming Cultures to Drive Success

March 15, 2017



According to the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation (DBT), four of the top ten companies in each major industry will be displaced in the next five years by innovative disruptors that are digitizing business models, value chains and product or services. Global executives identified this shift as a key challenge for business leaders. How do their companies become one of the Rising Six, rising with the tide of disruption and avoid the fate of the Sinking Four?

Business models that leverage the values, style, experience, knowledge, passion and loyalty of each of all generations in the workplace will unleash the greatest potential for high performance in their organizations and their relevant markets.   Still, leaders must sponsor a design process that is deliberate, inclusive, transformative, and organic.



Today four generations are employed in the American workplace, with people born after 1980 representing the largest share of workers (Pew Research, 2015).  Multi-generational teams are rich with experience and maturity and renewed with youthful optimism and excitement.  Mature professionals have gained wisdom from past success and failures, seasoned judgment, strong business and interpersonal skills, deep technical knowledge, wide business networks, and an understanding of how to successfully navigate traditional models.  Young professionals are digital natives and early adopters of digital and technology tools. They understand the sharing economy, prefer to integrate work into their life, are more diverse (racially and ethnically), think more globally, would rather cooperate than compete, and embrace change rapidly.



The Sinking Four companies ask their team members to deliver high performance, innovate, and attract new customers while still operating within a traditional business model and culture.  Workforce and customer demographics, emerging technologies and value vampires are rapidly changing and disrupting the global marketplace, yet most organizations are operating in cultures and organizational structures that have changed little in the past fifteen years.  The leaders of the Sinking Four have been focusing their efforts on the obvious – strategy, marketing and sales, business processes and systems, cost management, project management, risk management and IT solutions – while neglecting culture and workforce development.   

The typical Sinking Four company is hierarchical-- power concentrated at the top—and is focused on profit and growth. While middle managers are frequently given discretion around how objectives are achieved, senior management sets the goals, supervises the work, monitors systems, and rewards and recognizes individuals for top-line and bottom-line results in a competitive rating process.  In these traditional companies, people – their biggest asset -- can be a differentiator when considering how to successfully transform the organization.



Rising Six companies will thrive because they leverage their people, financial assets, and brand recognition to reinvent themselves into more agile, creative organizations.  Their model redesign often focuses on the following fundamentals:

  • Business strategy and societal impact

  • Collaborative decision-making and intergenerational leadership teams

  • Entrepreneurial spirit

  • Execution

  • Life success


Understanding how these companies can generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact in parallel with a financial return is important to the next generation workforce.  Here are two examples showing that intergenerational teams prefer to work collaboratively. 

1.  The business services division of a $6B heavy, industrial company was challenged with a series of site interruptions, cost overruns and customer dissatisfaction. The division VP brought together the entire intergenerational team (born between 1942 and 1996) to create a new strategy.    The team realized it needed to do whatever it could to accelerate the success of every person in the company.  Ultimately, the vision and strategy was big and bold, created excitement, and built commitment to change how all team members worked together.

2.  An international restaurant firm initiated a plan to remodel key restaurants worldwide.  Unfortunately, the first 50 projects were 50% over budget, 30% over schedule and not meeting quality expectations at “opening.”  The motivated CFO brought the cross-company team together to negotiate agreements on roles and responsibilities, task assignments, codes of conduct, trust building, styles of communication, conflict resolution, accountability, work flow, work schedules, cost management and quality systems.  These shared agreements defined the culture and values of the team, gave team members ownership for the results and boosted their sense of loyalty and commitment to each other’s success. 



Inspiring and supporting an entrepreneurial culture is critical to attracting and retaining talent.   “Hyperawareness” (DBT) is a company’s ability to rapidly collect insights from its workforce about its key stakeholders, and then make those insights available to every team member for informed decision-making. Disney International is teaching its team members to become “futurists” by using strategic foresight.  They are learning to watch trends in their regions and worldwide, notice which trends are intersecting, and then translate this intelligence into new business opportunities.  Every member can think like an entrepreneur.

Creating intergenerational workplaces, which unleash people’s potential, enables companies to “improve fast execution by ensuring they have people with the necessary skills, experience and perspectives to execute” (DBT).   J.W. Logistics grew from $1M to $108 M in revenue in five years by focusing on the “last mile” of transportation and logistics for companies like Walmart and Amazon.  Finding people who “fit their fiercely customer-focused culture” is a key to being fast and successful. 

Intergenerational teams have a unique opportunity to support the goals and aspirations of each other.  A tax department of a Fortune 1000 company was having teamwork and talent retention issues.  With the support of the director, the team implemented flexible schedules, program management, collaborative task assignments, mentoring programs between the subject matter experts and sharp young CPAs and technology and apps development by the 20-somethings.   The team then began regular “check-ins,” so members could update each other on life issues.  Life success became a shared value of the team.


In sum, competitive pressures, economic uncertainty and changing customer expectations require businesses to simultaneously defend their market share from attacks by their competitors while seeking new revenue opportunities in the quickly changing landscape.  Organizations able to increase their agility and respond quickly to these forces thrive and even outperform their competition.


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