How Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Is Driving Culture Renovation (i4cp login required)

Leadership accountability is the first order of business in a
new administration, governmental or commercial. And it’s a must-have component
underlying any strong, purpose-driven organizational culture. 

Incoming Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced this week that
senior Pentagon leaders have two weeks to provide him with reports on the
status of sexual assault prevention programs in the military. And he wants
those reports to include leaders’ assessments of what is and isn’t working when
it comes to prevention training and accountability measures instituted. 

Austin’s memo
to Pentagon leadership explained that “President Biden has ordered a 90-day
commission to pursue solutions to sexual assault in the military.” The
Secretary went on to say that the Department of Defense would “aggressively
support that effort.” He also declared that he didn’t want to wait 90 days to
take action and said that the nation’s military could not accomplish its
mission of defending the U.S. “if we also have to battle enemies within the

Evidence of those “enemies within the ranks” shows that the
problem has been on the rise. Department of Defense data
shows an increase of almost 60% in the number of formal sexual harassment
complaints from 2015 (657) to 2019 (1021). And if the numbers weren’t enough,
news coverage of the recent death of Pfc. Asia Graham, who had reported sexual
assault by a fellow soldier, is the latest in a long line of very visible and
pervasive problems. 

Harassment is an issue for business organizations too 

Workplace sexual assault and harassment isn’t confined to
the military; business organizations still struggle to make progress in
addressing this too. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),
which has responsibility for enforcing anti-discrimination laws pertaining to
workplaces, documented 7,514 complaints
of sexual harassment in in 2019. Nearly 17% of those were filed by males,
underscoring that the problem isn’t confined to one gender. Because many
incidents of harassment go unreported, the EEOC’s numbers represent only a
fraction of what actually occurs in workplaces.  

Sexual harassment is costly, too. Victims can experience
long-term physical and emotional damage, suffer career and economic setbacks,
lose their jobs and incomes, and much more. Companies feel the pain in
increased turnover, lower engagement levels, reduced productivity, potential
legal expenses, diminished business performance, brand and reputation injury,
and other potential negatives. In 2019, alone, the EEOC recovered more than $68
million from employers—again, only a small portion of monetary damages for
which business enterprises found themselves liable. 

Time for a culture renovation

Secretary Austin ended his memo to Pentagon leaders by
saying, “This is a leadership issue.”  

He’s right. And it is also a culture issue. Organizations,
military or civilian, achieve optimal performance when their cultures emphasize
respect. The Institute for Corporate Productivity’s (i4cp) study, Culture Renovation: A Blueprint
for Action
, found high-performance organizations consistently reporting
significantly better outcomes across multiple measures of healthy cultures. 

According to the
i4cp research, six elements constitute a healthy culture in which respect (and
high-performance) can thrive: 

  1. Obsession with delivering value to external customers
  2. Values execution and accountability
  3. Active support for diversity and inclusion
  4. Support for continuous learning and development of all employees
  5. High priority is placed on speed-to-market
  6. Societal impact is valued as much as financial impact
  7. High level of collaboration
  8. Innovative thinking and its application are nurtured
  9. Values are transparent
  10. Employees’ best performance is brought out
  11. Failure is viewed as an opportunity to learn and grow
  12. Employees are empowered

The study findings helped fuel a new book from i4cp CEO
Kevin Oakes: Culture Renovation™: 18
Leadership Actions to Build An Unshakeable Company
. The 18 actions revealed
by the research and presented by Oakes lay out a roadmap for organizations that
aspire to drive lasting positive change, such as a shift to a culture centered
on respect. 

Business leaders have quickly embraced the book and many are
undertaking their own culture-renovation initiatives. For his part, Secretary
Austin is already off to a strong start toward transforming culture in the
military. Just a few of the 18 actions he’s initiating, which are in line with
i4cp’s research: 

  1. Deploying a listening strategy – Austin’s
    memo instructs military leaders to collect data that reflects current
    conditions and those over the past decade, including what’s been done to
    support and advocate for victims. An accurate view of present culture and the
    workplace environment is an essential first step. 
  2. Setting a cultural path is about purpose,
    a clear and concise vision that focuses organizational efforts. Austin stated
    the military mission—“defend the United States”—right up front and in no
    uncertain terms. 
  3. Clearly communicating that change is coming.
    The Secretary noted President Biden’s commitment to finding “solutions to
    sexual assault in the military,” and added, “We will aggressively support that
    effort.” No room for doubt about commitment to change at the highest levels of

Regardless of organizational mission or the specific
cultural renovation on the horizon, Oakes’s book, backed by i4cp research, gives
leaders concrete steps along with real-world examples of companies that are
successfully driving positive change. 

When it’s time for a sequel, Secretary Austin and our U.S.
Department of Defense just might make a great case study. 


for much more on  Kevin Oakes’s book and
i4cp Culture Renovation solutions.