Culture – Adaptability: Creating Change

by Ron Potter

One of the more impactful aspects of this Creating Change sections is summed up in the statement:

“We respond well to competitors and other changes in the business environment.”

One of my first experiences with the Denison Culture Survey was with a company that had been the undisputed leader of their industry for over 100 years.  However, over the last few years, they had been losing market share to new start-ups in their industry.  By the time they needed outside help, things had fallen to critical points, and their profitability had all but disappeared.

First Culture Survey

When we saw the results of their first survey, it was immediately obvious from a consulting point of view.  They scored highest in the Consistency quadrant.  Meaning they had been doing things in a very consistent way for over 100 years (we’ll look at the Consistency quadrant in more detail in future posts).

They scored lowest in the Creating Change section of Adaptability.

And on the statement “We respond well to competitors and other changes in the business environment,” they scored in the bottom 10% of all companies.  They did NOT respond well to competitors and other changes in the business environment.

Why had they not responded?

After gathering the results of the survey, we displayed the overall graph of their results.  The leadership team went silent after reviewing the results.  It was not because they were in shock.  It was because the results revealed what they suspected was the problem all along.   They had continued to function just as they had done for over a century in spite of knowing that the market place was rapidly changing around them.

But, this visual representation of their situation allowed them to open up and be honest with each other for the first time.

We’ve always done it this way

Their first response was to admit they knew they were in trouble over three years ago when they first experienced a loss of market share and a drop in their profits.  At their annual leadership retreat, they decided that the drop would be overcome if they just buckled down and did a better job.  After all, they had been successful for over 100 years.  If they just did a better job of doing what they did well, they would pull out of this tailspin.

We don’t have a better solution

At their leadership retreat two years ago the results had continued to drop but they decided it must be a temporary issue and if they just continued to stay focused and work harder, this would be overcome like many dips throughout their history.  They didn’t have a better answer.

Now we see the problem

While they were stunned with the results of their culture survey, you could almost detect a sense of relief on many of their faces.  They were all exhausted from working hard and long.  They had sacrificed their personal lives including family and health just because they didn’t have a better answer.  Now they could see the issue more clearly which allowed them to talk about and work toward a more feasible solution.

Coherent Change

Other areas of the Creating Change section referred to issues such as:

  • Flexibility
  • Improved processes
  • New ways of doing things
  • Lower the resistance to change
  • Get the entire organization pulling together in the new direction

These things they could begin to plan around.  The Culture Survey had added a new vitality to the leadership team.  You could feel the energy rising in the room as they began to talk about and plan for change and a new way of doing things.


While they never fully recovered the overwhelming market share they once held, they did become a much more competitive force in the market place.  They were suddenly fighting for and scrapping for every inch of growth in the market place, and the “new” competitors were fighting a new approach from an old competitor.  They were now forcing changes in the industry, and the “new” competitors had to respond.


If I tried to list all of the companies that were once a force in the industry but no longer existed, there would be too many to include in a blog.

I read the other day that Blockbuster (the DVD company with thousands of retail stores) had a chance to purchase Netflix for a very reasonable amount.  They passed.  It would have eaten into their retail store, walk-in business.

Today, Netflix is one of the hottest companies in the market place.  Blockbuster doesn’t exist.

Change or Die

We’ve used this adage many times in the last several blog posts.  But it’s true.  If you’re not changing and adapting, you will soon be nothing more than an empty store in a strip mall with a faded outline of your logo and former glory.

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