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MIT Sloan Management Review: What does the leader of culture transformation at General Electric Co. do?
Janice Semper: I’ve been in this role for about five years now. It’s focused on being one of the main architects for how we evolve the culture of the company for this new digital era so that GE can continue to be successful and relevant and sustainable as we move out of what I consider the industrial era into the digital era. It’s asking what that means in terms of mindsets and mechanics and behaviors we need to have in the company.
Following up on that, can you talk about why GE thought this was important to do and to appoint someone to do it?
We began to recognize that the world around us was fundamentally changing; we were starting to feel some disruption. We were looking at the technological innovation that was happening and started to understand the potential impact it would have on the company. Our customers and our employees were both telling us, “Love the company, but it’s slow.” Our customers were saying, “You guys are a little bit too hard to do business with.” Our employees were saying, “We want to do a better job working with our customers.” It was coming from a number of different places, but all recognizing that the world was fundamentally changing, and if we were to continue to be in existence, we had to change our culture and our solutions for our customers, how we work with our customers, how we think, and how we operate.
We also recognized that somebody has to be thinking about this strategically, that while it’s certainly everybody’s responsibility to create the culture, if you’re trying to change it, you need an architect to figure out how you actually do that, at least initially. That’s why we thought I should take this role.
Our first foray into this was actually the work we did with [The Lean Startup author and business consultant] Eric Ries. We recognized that while you could teach a lean startup to work faster, be more customer-focused, and be more agile, unless you have an environment that supports that way of working, it’s not going to stick.
Initially, our introduction to Ries came through our business innovation team, but we quickly realized that this is a human issue.