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“Make culture a key element of your strategy.”

Dr. Linda D. Sharkey is Global Managing Director and Partner at Achieveblue a boutique consultancy that specializes in leadership development, cultural transformation and talent and organization development.  Prior to joining Achieveblue, Linda was the Chief Talent Officer for HP and also held numerous Executive Human Resources roles at GE.  Linda is co-author of Winning with Transglobal Leadership which has been recognized as one of the Top 30 Best Business Books for 2012 by Executive Summaries.  She has also co-authored a ground breaking book on talent management entitled Optimizing Talent. Linda is a widely sought after executive coach and as such is a Founding Member of the Marshall Goldsmith Group.  She is a frequent keynote speaker at industry and company events and is often cited as one of the best thought leaders in her field.  She holds a Ph.D from Benedictine University and lives in Saratoga, California.

MO: In what ways have you helped organizations transform their cultures to better their companies overall?

Linda: We have helped companies in a variety of ways; most importantly, we’ve assisted them in understanding their current cultures. This is an important first step because you can’t make progress if you don’t know where you stand today, and which hidden elements of your culture are helping you or hindering you.

The next step is to determine what your culture needs to be, to become successful in the marketplace. We help companies interpret the results of a survey defining their culture, and then we work with them closely to put in place strategies to move the culture needle toward their ideal state. Additionally, we measure their environment again in 12 to 18 months to track their progress and adjust the strategies accordingly.

We’ve witnessed many culture transformation projects that have made huge differences in company success. We work directly with the leaders on their own culture profiles and provide coaching to them so they can demonstrate the behaviors necessary to reflect and reinforce the new culture they’re striving for. Recently, we took one region of a company and made such  dramatic success that they’ve become the shining star of their whole organization. They have become the best practice for improvement!

MO: How can a company create the best culture from the very beginning?

Linda: Make culture a key element of your strategy. Once you’ve defined your strategy, clarify the culture and the values you want to be known for – and which will be necessary to ensure you can effectively carry out your strategy. Once you’ve defined the culture required, you need to be clear on the behaviors team members need to demonstrate to ensure this ideal culture is built into the day-to-day rhythm of the company.

Conduct regular roundtables with all employees to help them understand the behaviors required. Monitoring how leaders and employees are doing, relative to living the values, is an important reinforcement mechanism that keeps the organization focused on its true north. Don’t ignore the power of storytelling. Take swift action on those who do not reflect the core values and culture of the company. Ensure your company considers cultural fit in its hiring practices – poor cultural fit has been one of the biggest derailments for outside hires. And, certainly, don’t promote someone if he or she doesn’t reflect the values and culture of your company. The people you hire and promote speak volumes about what you believe is important as a leader. Employees pay attention!

MO: How has your background in HR helped you consult for companies on driving the best talent?

Linda: Having worked with large and small companies, and public sector organizations, has given me a strong breadth of experience. I had the fortune of working with leaders at all levels; I also had some great mentors who taught me effective change management approaches. I learned the benchmarked change acceleration process for GE. I’ve led many successful cultural change initiatives.  Working on the integration of mergers and acquisitions was also a wonderful learning experience.  In these circumstances, you see the different cultures and what needs to be done to create a powerful culture to support the new entity and it’s strategy. All these HR experiences gave me firsthand knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.

MO: As a public speaker, what is one topic that you enjoy sharing with others and why?

Linda: I love speaking about leadership, culture, and talent development. Leadership makes or breaks a company. Over time, companies with strong leadership have always been successful beacons for the rest of the world. We have seen great companies lose their way due to leadership issues.

Great leaders build great cultures. They’re values-driven and don’t lose sight of their personal compasses. They live their values. Great cultures focus on the people, and leaders of these cultures view their people and their customers, for that matter, as more important than themselves. This stewardship of others is visible throughout the organization, and profitability tends to be directly correlated to these actions.

MO: Your latest book, “Winning with Transglobal Leadership,” helps prepare organizations to expand globally. What is a key lesson you have learned from writing this book that could relate to all businesses? 

Linda: Again, it’s all about leadership and what leaders do. We uncovered the five critical leadership dimensions that all “Transglobal Leaders” need in order to be successful.   Without these dimensions, companies can spiral up or down, and at a much more rapid pace than in years past.  Today, work moves at warp speed, and leadership flaws and mistakes become much more visible in this globally and socially connected world. Companies can’t afford to have leaders who can’t adapt to the environments around them, who cannot connect with talent wherever they are, who don’t value diversity, and who cannot respect other values’ approaches. Finally, our research underscored how incredibly focused “Transglobal Leaders” are on developing their talent and caring about their people.  Our researched underscored that these “Transglobal Leadership” dimensions are not only nice to have but requirements for business success.

MO: What is something exciting that you are working on right now? 

Linda: We are now developing a unique program, designed to help leaders take the “Transglobal Leadership” journey. We’re creating a rare opportunity for leaders to discover and develop their “Transglobal Leadership” capabilities in South Africa. Why South Africa? It’s the new business frontier and enables leaders to really explore differences in how work will be accomplished in emerging markets. South Africa also provides an excellent backdrop for practicing “Transglobal Leadership” behaviors, and it reflects how they impact and engage others, no matter where they live or who they are. This program is not about cross-cultural training; it’s much more about exploring who you are as a leader and how you can succeed in this fast-paced, ever-changing global arena.


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