Identifying the levers that drive culture change

Kenning’s 3D Culture process: Development phase

This is the final installment of a three-part series of articles describing Kenning’s 3D Culture process, which focuses on the Development phase of the process.

In the previous two articles we described the Diagnose and Design phases (the first two “D’s” of the 3D process), and made the case that, while culture “happens” in any organization organically (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse), culture can also be diagnosed and intentionally designed and/or changed, depending on desired outcomes.



This assertion about culture forms an important corollary to one of Kenning’s core beliefs about successful organization leadership – that it is overwhelmingly associated with intentionality.   And just as we believe in helping leaders become ever more intentional about their style and strategy, we believe that organizations and organization leaders can become ever more intentional about developing the cultures they aspire to cultivate and grow.

The Development phase of Kenning’s 3D process relies on successful execution of the first two phases:

  • The Diagnostic phase calls for gathering good data about the organization culture in question, which we do through a comprehensive series of focus groups, 1-1 interviews, and custom-designed surveys to gain a holistic insight;
  • The Design phase consolidates learnings from the Diagnostic phase to identify a coherent set of initiatives and processes that, when realized, will move the organization toward the culture it seeks.

Building off the Design phase, a typical Development phase might include the following elements:

  • Talent innovations such as
    • New approaches to talent identification and recruiting, elevating the importance of cultural “fit”
    • New onboarding strategies to accelerate the successful entry of new employees by prioritizing culture
    • New feedback and development mechanisms to enhance learning and cement cultural priorities, including both developmental and summative review cycles
  • Organization development investments such as
    • An integrated learning curriculum aligned with cultural touchstones and objectives, not only in terms of content but also style and format
    • 1-1 coaching programs that build the adaptive mindset and skills that leaders and managers will need to grow the capacity of their people, in line with the organization culture
    • Action Learning coaching groups that will help leaders and managers learn from and support each other
    • Sponsorship and mentorship programs that will build leadership and cultural continuity
  • Learning processes and systems at various levels of the organization, including at the individual, team, and organization levels, all aligned to realizing the cultural aspirations of the organization

Depending on its objectives, a well-designed program of culture development may, of course, include many more elements than are suggested here (such as the introduction or amplification of rituals and symbols) and may also elect to omit any of these elements in favor of other priorities.


A culture development case study

As with our previous two articles in the 3D Culture process, we conclude here by considering a case study of what success looks like. Here we use the example of a mid-sized, cutting-edge biotech company whose leadership believed its culture might inadvertently be preventing it from achieving its high aspiration of bringing to market a set of medical therapies that could offer life changing outcomes, at scale, to combat a lethal and widespread chronic disease.

Moving from the Diagnostic to the Design phase, the company identified the importance of a return to basics by embracing a set of cultural touchstones, including the following terms, all of which, leadership concluded, should contribute to the formation of a company-wide culture:

  • Innovation
  • Creativity
  • Nimbleness
  • Curiosity
  • Openness
  • Flexibility
  • Execution

Based on these cultural touchstones, Kenning consultants helped the organization’s leaders identify five key change levers that, when pulled together, could help move the organization definitively in the direction of its cultural aspirations. They were:

  • Onboarding
  • Meeting Management
  • Project Management
  • Organization Communications
  • Learning Systems

Relative to each lever, a set of high-level “From-To” development goals were established. To respect client confidentiality, those culture change opportunities are identified below at a “25,000 foot” view. Kenning consultants worked with company leadership to create strategies for pulling each of these levers:


Levers for driving culture change: Illustrative client example


Once we aligned with the organization’s leadership about these critical five levers for driving the desired culture change, we concluded the engagement by recommending a series of concrete actions the leaders could undertake to make it happen – including adjustments in recruiting and on-boarding approaches, the introduction of new meeting and project management processes, and the development of fresh communications and learning systems – all intentionally designed and consistent with the key cultural touchstones (rather than left to a set of abstract “best practices”).  In addition, Kenning continued to support the change process through individual and group coaching, as well as learning and development programs to provide leaders, managers, and technical leads with the mindsets and skills necessary to make those touchstones come alive.

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To learn more about Kenning’s 3D Culture process, please contact Daryl Ogden.