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“If leaders are totally comfortable then they’re not moving fast enough.”

Chris Cancialosi, Managing Partner and Founder of gothamCulture, is a recognized expert in the field of leader and organizational development with particular focus on the leader’s role in shaping high-performing culture.

The team at gothamCulture, focuses on identifying the underlying causes of organizational obstacles and assisting leaders to develop and execute breakthrough strategies that elevate their performance. They provide critical and thought provoking insight to leaders who desire to use organizational culture and leadership as key drivers of performance.


BusinessInterviews.com: What influenced your decision to bootstrap the business instead of seeking outside investment? How has this decision helped shape the vision and direction of the company so far?

Chris: Ignorance mostly. I had just returned from service in Iraq with the Army and I realized that I needed more out of life than a job. I wanted to take what I knew and broaden my exposure to other organizations. So, my business partner and I started the ball rolling.

Now that I think back on it, it was a great decision. One of the primary reasons, personally, for wanting to start a company was to free myself from having to work for someone else. Had we taken outsight investment we, in a sense, would have still be working for someone.

The decision has certainly shaped our company in terms of what we value and how we define ourselves. We are proud of the fact that we’ve been able to succeed and grow the company organically. We may be small but we’re feisty and we get the job done even when we don’t have a lot of backing. That says a lot about our style and how we work with our clients. We appreciate and acknowledge that there can be strength in being the underdog.

BusinessInterviews.com: Can you elaborate on the basics of how and why the transformation of organizational culture can significantly improve performance?

Chris: At its core, organizational culture is the set of DNA that guides the behavior of employees in a company. That “DNA” usually developed over time as the group learned through trial and error what led to success and what didn’t. As these behaviors yield success, the collective thinking only becomes more and more solidified as ‘the right way to do things’.
This power of culture as a way to create norms and expectations of how to behave is great. It helps align people and it takes away concerns about how to do things. It also creates rules of working together that we don’t have to think about consciously as we move forward enabling us to spend more time on other things. Imagine if you came to work every day and the rules changed? It would be maddening and you sure wouldn’t be productive.

Where these cultural “rules” can get organizations in trouble is when things change in the environment and the same old way of doing things no longer results in success. Organizations who understand their culture are much better able to identify these situations and evolve to meet changing conditions. Those who don’t risk, at best, a degradation of performance and, at most, extinction.

Those companies that are really ahead of the game are those that take the time to understand their culture and its potential impact on their strategy in a proactive, continuous way. Nothing in life stays the same. Those organizations that can predict how their culture may help or hinder their performance based on changing conditions PRIOR to facing them can evolve and thrive in new environments where others may struggle.

BusinessInterviews.com: How do you deal with staff who are suspicious or intimidated by the process of change?

Chris: This is a tricky subject because change is part art and part science. When it comes to deeply held beliefs and assumptions about how work should get done, especially if things have been static for a long time, getting people to change their thinking and behavior can be a real uphill climb.

A significant part of it, for me, is engaging people in dialogue about the current state and how their beliefs about how work gets done may not be doing them any favors anymore. It’s not about judging the behaviors- they were developed in a time when that behavior yielded success. To me, it’s more about honoring the past, acknowledging that things in the environment are changing, and engaging everyone in the organization in a discussion about which of their collective beliefs and assumptions about work they may want to consider evolving.

BusinessInterviews.com: What advice would you give to our readers when it comes to putting together a great team?

Chris: Diversity is the key. It can be tempting for leaders to hire clones of themselves. It makes life easy (in the short-term) when people all think the same way. In the long-term, however, having different points of view at the table and creating and environment where people can freely express their opinions can unveil opportunities or risks that a homogeneous team may likely miss.

With diversity, I also always look to hire people who are smarter than me. There’s no ego in this for me. I want the best of the best. I want people on the team who think and who ask the tough questions. It helps take our company to a new level of performance.

BusinessInterviews.com: Do you think that it’s important for leaders to be able to step outside of their comfort zone?

Chris: 100% yes. Leadership is all about creating change. Seeing opportunities. Seeing risks and adapting to new situations and challenges. If leaders are totally comfortable then they’re not moving fast enough. And I guarantee that they have a competitor out there who is comfortable with discomfort. One who’s pushing themselves and the organizations forward with momentum and a sense of urgency. If you’re comfortable, you may want to check the rear-view mirror to see who’s about to pass you on the left.

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some ways that you help foster and create and sustain effective change within organizations and provide people with the tools to keep the momentum going long after you’ve left?

Chris: For us, the secret to creating and maintaining momentum is all about engagement and leadership. Leaders who are committed to the process and who stand up and lead create a sense of urgency and focus that organizations need to even think about doing things differently. Those leaders that are not supportive of the process are very easy for people to spot and they become the reason why others don’t change.

The second key component is engagement. Our work in the culture space is very heavily reliant on all people in an organization being involved in the process from start to finish. All to often, companies will engage everyone during the data collection phase of an engagement by asking them to respond to a survey or to participate in a focus group. That’s great and it’s a critical component in the process but, if that’s where the employees’ participation ends, it’s tough for organizations to sustain a change effort.

Those organizations, however, who ask for everyone’s input and ALSO expect that everyone has some skin in the game in terms of understanding what the feedback means for the business as well as owning some for of change at their level are much more effective in terms of gaining and maintaining momentum.

Culture change can be a game of inches. Leaders who try to carry the ball down the field alone don’t usually get very far. Those who are able to engage the entire team to work together tend to realize much more significant gain.

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