The CEO Must Be the Ultimate Architect of Any Culture Renovation. Example: Booz Allen

In a surprise to no one, leadership from the CEO is critical to reinvigorating culture. Nearly all (78%) of organizations that have had successful culture transformations had lead architects. That person was the CEO.

At Booz Allen Hamilton, Horacio Rozanski stepped into the CEO role in January 2015, succeeding Ralph Shrader who had led the firm through a period of dynamic growth and change. Rozanski was charged with taking the firm into its next century of innovation.

“We’ve been privileged to have great leaders since day one, but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. Different times demand different architects,” says Chief People Officer Betty Thompson.

“Horacio wanted to create an environment more reflective of a leading tech-centric company. It wasn’t long before there were fewer mahogany walls and three-piece suits. It was deliberate and palpable. We were surrounded by innovation. You could feel the future.”

Despite the organization’s status as a large, public company, part of Rozanski’s mission was also to retain a collaborative, partnership-based culture, says Thompson.

“What we mean by that, for example, is that Booz Allen’s senior leaders all work within a single profit and loss model so that everyone is focused on a common purpose. That sort of equity, we believe, makes a real difference in the choices people make, the sacrifices, the movements they make, and the flexibility and agility they’ll show in order to do the right thing for the organization.”

Rozanski also worked with leaders and employees across the firm to write a new purpose statement and refresh the values of the firm. To ensure the initiative would succeed, the roughly 150 senior-most leaders all had opportunities to help shape the words.

The revitalized purpose and values were unveiled at a special event for all leaders and then they replicated the approach in sharing them across the firm. Ultimately, the firm’s purpose was distilled to “Empower People to Change the World.” The firm’s refreshed values were distinct and intended to evoke an emotional attachment and personal commitment:

  • Unflinching courage
  • Collective ingenuity
  • Passionate service
  • Ferocious integrity
  • Champion’s heart

They went a step further than simply talking about these values, or even writing them down. The values were set in stone—literally. Leaders of each team were given five polished stones, each engraved with one of the five values. When an employee demonstrated one of these specific values in practice, they were awarded a stone and a story was shared about how they demonstrated the value. The employee became the custodian of that stone, keeping it as a treasured reminder of their commitment to the firm’s purpose and values. The ability to display a stone has become a symbol of pride, and some employees make it a goal to “collect all five.”

“It’s become a tradition,” says Thompson, who recently awarded a stone for passionate service to a Florida-based employee for her service to her colleagues in the wake of 2018’s Hurricane Michael.

“We had more than 40 people significantly impacted by that hurricane. One employee who was a leader for this contingent was tirelessly advocating for their needs. She had people staying at her house. She even rented a backhoe to get trees out of peoples’ yards and off their homes. We have these moments where we award stones, and people are literally crying because it resonates so much with them. We’ve tried very, very hard to not just have something explaining our culture and values framed on a wall, but rather to live them out loud and honor them in ways that touch peoples’ hearts.”

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