How to Keep Culture Through Change - tips on leadership, vulnerability, and executive mentoring

Leaders that can successfully navigate their teams through change will thrive


Garrett Mintz , Mon 20 July 2020
Change in your business is inevitable.

Whether impetus for change is internal like a new business insight that causes you to move in a new direction, or external like a global pandemic that forces you to rethink the way you do business, change always happens.

As a leader for your business, you may find that adapting to change seems easier for you than it is for your people. This could be due to you having a higher risk tolerance than your staff or that you were part of the decision for the change while your people are asked to follow along after hearing about it from you or somebody else second-hand.

Regardless, the key point is that change happens and some people will handle it better than others. While this process can be tough, what is important is that the people that are able to change with you, will also be able to grow with you.

According to ClearRock Inc, 70% of change initiatives fail to achieve their basic goals. 

However, if you can get the right people around you, people that are willing and able to change with you and be happy about it, you are significantly more likely to successfully navigate this change.

This article sheds light on an effective way to enact change in your company while maintaining culture.

In 2003, Evan Williams sold blogger.com to Google. Blogger was one of the first dedicated websites for what we know as the blog today.

By 2004, Evan was already cooking up new plans and finding ways to change the game. He asked, “What if we could implement blogs, but with audio?” and began working. He called this new company Odeo. 

This was a brand new medium for media consumption and Evan thought he had another big opportunity on his hands. But in 2005, something big happened that would change his world forever.

In 2005, Apple decided that they were going to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into a new form of media that was strikingly similar to audio blogs. This surprised Evan Williams because at this moment, these “audio blogs” as Evan referred to them barely had any traction.

Apple called this component of their business “podcasts”. 

While Odeo started garnering some traction, it was definitely not a market leader and when Apple flooded the market with podcasts, Odeo was left to fend for the scraps.

Suddenly time was running out for Evan. He was backed into a corner, hemorrhaging funds and rapidly approaching a decision he was loath to consider: closing the company. That’s when he made the bold decision to do something interesting.

Evan decided to be vulnerable.

As opposed to telling his team that everything would be okay and to keep pushing in the direction he knew was a losing battle, Evan was open and honest.

As opposed to just him and his executive team determining what to do next, he involved his entire team to be a part of the solution. 

Their initial idea was to have a hackathon where all of their employees could work individually or in small groups to come up with ideas about how they could pivot and transition. The hackathon was a success and they were able to scrape some good ideas from the event (alongside some team-building for good measure). 

Two of Evan’s employees, Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey, came up with this idea leveraging their prior experience with Evan at Blogger. As opposed to long, free-form blogs meant for longer reads, what about a blogging site built around short text snippets that people could skim? 

As they began testing the idea, it took off in popularity. They were able to get famous celebrities on the site by providing a way for these celebrities to get their message out to a wide audience without the barriers of traditional media. 

This hackathon idea became what we know today as Twitter.

Evan Williams was able to transition the majority of his Odeo team to fully focus on Twitter. He successfully accomplished this because he was vulnerable with his team and allowed them to be a part of the decision-making process, thus ensuring that every member of his team had buy-in for the tough work ahead. 

To recap: 

·        Change is inevitable
·        Effectively implementing change is hard
·        Some people handle change better than others
·        To maintain your culture through the change, be vulnerable with your team
·        And include your people in the decision-making process

Coming to this conclusion isn’t easy. As a leader, it requires admitting that you may have made a mistake and that you may not know the best path forward. Having a fellow executive mentor can help unlock your vulnerability and improve your performance as a leader. Executive Mentorship isn’t a group of executives meeting afterhours to discuss work and it’s not coaching either. An executive mentoring relationship is a 1-on-1 relationship with another executive who can relate to your situation, help you understand your weaknesses, and provide a safe space for you to be vulnerable.


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