Leading Cultural Change Through Mentoring

October 18, 2020 John R. Hatfield 0 Comments

Presented at the International Mentoring Conference, University of New Mexico.

Research claims the success rate of culture change is only 54%. Mentoring the key stakeholders through the arduous process of change will increase this percentage. The fittest survive. Natural selection does occur in the corporate, non-profit, and organizational world. You must be adaptable and in tune with what is happening in your sphere or you won’t survive. Leaders must understand the importance mentoring holds in leading successful cultural change.


It’s the way we do things around here…

Culture is the values, norms, beliefs, decisions, language, attitude, symbols, and most importantly the accepted and rejected behaviors of a group of people. Every culture has a DNA, an ethos, a “tribal smell.” It is a way of life that involves a reward system, practices, tradition, and rituals. Culture is passed from one generation to another through communication, symbolism, teaching /correction, imitation, and most importantly mentoring.


A mentor is someone with knowledge and skill that empowers a learner through example, instruction, dialogue, affirmation, challenge and support, preferably, in the context of an authentic relationship. Tim Elmore (2009) defines mentoring as “a relational experience through which one person empowers another by sharing their wisdom and resources.” Mentoring is yoking in numerous forms. A yoke is a devise for joining together a pair of draft animals. To yoke means to be or become joined, a bond, linked or united. Mentoring happens when a mentor and mentee choose to yoke together to accomplish something, they can’t un-yoked. Mentors are the ones who direct us to the difficult, the hard, laborious work that guides us to mastery.

Culture Mindset

Cultural Mindset involves a framework of principles, ideas, beliefs, values and behaviors that are used when forming decisions and judgments. It’s how the group thinks about a particular subject.

Every organization or corporation must understand the significance of a culture mindset. Why? Because it is the DNA, the ethos that defines how they think, how they treat employees and customers, how they make decisions based on their values and what they believe is important, that should guide them.

The DNA carries the genetic information, the code. The culture DNA is the genetic code that gives definition, information, and a picture of the selected culture.

Ethos is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology.

Leaders mentor emerging leaders in identifying company or organizational vision, mission, guiding values, ethos, and the purpose of the company. Exceptional mentors know how to imitate, manage, make decisions, communicate, protect, and influence how employees live out company “tribal smell.”

Gatekeepers, The Protectors Of The Culture, Are Mentors.

Every organization or corporation must have a “protector of the culture, a gatekeeper” that is involved and keenly aware of what promotes and maintains culture. This “Gate Keeper”, can identify decisions that damage and hinder agreed upon culture and they have the ability to recalibrate, keeping the culture aligned. Without this important position the Culture DNA will become watered down, minimalized, marginalized, and lacking any significant impact.

Leadership For The Cultural Shift

“Everything rises and falls based upon leadership”

John Maxwell

Shift is to move or to cause (something or someone) to move to a different place or position resulting in change. An exchange or replacing occurs in a shift.

Leading a culture change is one of the hardest leadership dynamics presented to leaders today. Why? Because most people fear change; it’s a different construct that most leaders have never navigated and understanding culture and its complexity is rare. 

Leaders who understand and are experienced in mentoring skills are better equipped in accomplishing cultural shifts. “The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything,” Louis Gerstner. Reasons why change is difficult: The unknown, distaste of failure, resources, power loss, and resistance. We must remember that when a shift is needed the change that must occur is not an event but a constant state of adaption. Normal isn’t coming back and a new normal is being created and valued, new relating, new experiences, accepted and rejected behaviors, and successes. The new normal will involve a new tribal smell, feel, taste, sense, and visual. “We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are,” Max DePree.

In Relation To Leading Culture Shift What Is The Process, Strategy Or System?


“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” says, Fuller.

Dr. John P. Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School.

Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change. 

  1. Establish a Sense of Urgency
  2. Create the Guiding Coalition
  3. Develop a Vision and Strategy
  4. Communicate the Change Vision
  5. Empower Employees for Broad-Based Action
  6. Generate Short-Term Wins
  7. Consolidate Gains and Produce More C
  8. Anchor New Approaches in the Culture

Change Management Foundation and Model

  • Determine Need for Change
  • Prepare & Plan for Change
  • Implement the Change
  • Sustain the Change

McKinsey 7-S Model

The McKinsey 7-S model offers a holistic approach to organization.

1. Shared values
2. Strategy
3. Structure
4. Systems
5. Style
6. Staff
7. Skills

These models educate leaders in creating change of the process and give them structure and strategy in mentoring others in the process.

Top Fifteen Common Roadblocks And Hurdles Every Mentor Needs To Know.

  1. Not taking the reflective time to identify the dynamics of a (shift) culture change: vision statement, goals, lived out values, mission, policies, unacceptable and acceptable behavior, affirmation, key players and stakeholders.
  2. Resources and resource alignment.
  3. Clear and constant communication through the whole process.
  4. Not asking the WHY question at every mile marker in the process.
  5. Inability to present the need and reason for the shift in a variety of creative ways.
  6. Adversaries who resist and fight against change because of perceived or real power loss.
  7. Lack of fortitude, focus, and perseverance.
  8. Not celebrating the small, medium, and big victories.
  9. Buy in of key stakeholders and then the majority at large.
  10. Not willing to address and eliminate unacceptable behaviors.
  11. Not having a designated cultural leader and team focused on the process.
  12. Not listening.
  13. Not being patient with the process.
  14. Addressing and understanding the fear factor (fear of failure).
  15. Eliminating current policies that defeat the process

Mentors understand culture, change, adaptation, alignment and lived out ethos of mission, vision, and sacred values.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” 
Charles Darwin

John R. Hatfield

You can buy this article below

Leading Cultural Change Through Mentoring was last modified: June 21st, 2021 by John R. Hatfield