041 – Grant Dale – Giving the Navy a Cultural Refresh

Tackling Cultural Change

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Grant Dale played a crucial role in the much needed cultural refresh that took place in the Navy over the past few years.

Grant spent more than 30 years in the Australian Navy – much of it at sea as a Commander of a ship. During his long career Grant experienced the entire gamut of leadership styles. From robustly authoritarian to thoughtful engagement.

A powerful experience with a formal feedback tool sent him on a path of discovery that saw him fall in love with the discipline of leadership development.

In the late stages of his Navy career he was part of a team that was tasked with developing an organisation-wide leadership program that would change the dated culture of the entire Navy.

Cultural reinvigoration on a grand scale…this is an intriguing story.

Grant Dale talks about tackling cultural change in the Navy

Lessons Learned

Here’s what I took from the episode:

The key to the success of the Navy’s cultural change and leadership program was that it was not a sheep dipping approach – but instead worked with participants to understand the intent of the change at a philosophical and conceptual level. They worked to help each member understand their own style and develop a shared language that allowed everyone, right across the organisation, to share powerful messages

Cultural Change

During the development and delivery of the Navy program Grant learned some powerful lessons about change and leadership:

  1. John Kotter was right. The program followed the intent of his 8 step change model very closely – it was the core of its success
  2. You need both the carrot and the stick if you are going to have success. You will always have your early adopters – and those who come on board with just a little coaxing. But there will be hard-core reluctance from those Grant calls the dinosaurs – they need to be beaten over the head with a stick to realise they need to make a change or ‘get off the bus’
  3. You must socialise the need for change before the program is implemented
  4. You must measure progress. If you are in the system it can be hard to notice the change – like the frog in the boiling water
  5. You must notice, share and celebrate success. You have to celebrate the wins at every opportunity. It’s what reminds people that the change process, however hard, is worth it
  6. Cultural change is an enduring activity – it’s not a fire and forget weapon. You’ve got to keep at it

Leadership Development

  1. Good leadership looks the same in every organisation. From the defence force to a bank to a mine site. It’s only the context or the mission that changes. The behaviours of good leadership look the same everywhere
  2. Leadership has nothing to do with rank, power or organisational hierarchy. Leadership is about influence – outwards, sideways, beyond the confines of the organisation
  3. Influence means building and development relationships – trust – at all levels
  4. Leaders at all levels in the organisation have a non-negotiable responsibility for setting and developing the culture of the organisation


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