January 30, 2018 – Walking the Talk, a global culture transformation firm, has appointed Chris Pierce-Cooke as its new CEO. He replaces co-founder Carolyn Taylor, who shifts to the role of executive chairman.
Mr. Pierce-Cooke has over 20 years of multinational experience as a business leader, entrepreneur and advisor in publicly traded, private partnership and family-owned businesses with revenues between $1 million and $16 billion. Among the positions he has held, he was CEO of Corporate Vision, in Australia, which was the former business of Ms. Taylor. Coming to the U.S., he led the global growth of Right Management’s organizational consulting business, where he was executive vice president and world managing director of consulting services. Heidrick & Struggles, where he led the development of the firm’s leadership consulting practice. For the previous two years, Mr. Pierce-Cooke served as managing director – corporate development for Catapult Growth Partners, advising professional services firms on growth strategy.
“I am delighted to have the opportunity to join and lead this special firm,” said Mr. Pierce-Cooke. “Walking the Talk is at an inflection point in its upward growth trajectory and impact with clients and their people. I very much look forward to sharing and deploying the knowledge and experience I have gained over two decades in further developing the firm, our people and the relationships we build with our clients around the world.”
Ms. Taylor said Mr. Pierce-Cooke joins the firm at a critical juncture. He is charged with helping to bring Walking the Talk through its next phase of ongoing growth while continuing to deliver high-level culture transformation services for its clients.
“Because of our focused strategy to help our clients align their cultures with their strategies to deliver the best business result, we always try to apply the same practices to our own business,” she said. “Walking the Talk is at the point now where our growth needs a CEO who knows how to take these next steps, and we are delighted to hand this role over to Chris.”
Mr. Pierce-Cooke will work with the existing executive leadership team of Amanda Fajak, Jerome Parisse-Brassens and Rena Jordan, as well as new member Rosemarie Dentesano.
Ms. Dentesano is the firm’s new director of APAC. She replaces Mr. Parisse-Brassens, who is moving to the firm’s headquarters in Amsterdam to serve as co-regional director for Europe. Along with Ms. Fajak, Mr. Parisse-Brassens will help support the firm’s growing European practice.
Ms. Dentesano also has past experience with Right Management, where she both led successful functional teams and worked with CEOs and their leaders at the intersection of strategy and culture. She will be leading Walking the Talk’s APAC team from Melbourne, Australia.
The additions signal a new chapter for the company as it continues to grow. Ms. Taylor, who started the firm eight years ago, will now fully focus on working with key clients globally and supporting the firm’s teams who service them. “Those who know me well will know that this new role focuses on where my passions lie and the best contribution I can make,” she said. “I’m also looking to finish work on my next books, and developing new ways to support leaders in their endeavors to build the best culture for their organization.”
Walking the Talk, which was founded in 2010, is a leader in helping clients align their culture with their strategy to deliver business results. In addition to the Netherlands headquarters, the firm has teams of consultants in the U.K., Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America.
Hunt Scanlon Media recently spoke with Mr. Pierce-Cooke about culture change and how it can help companies reach their full potential. Here are some excerpts from that interview.
Chris, does culture continue to be a topic in the boardroom?
Culture is not a passing fad. In fact, we are seeing increasing evidence that culture and business performance are intrinsically linked. Board members, CEOs and executives recognize that they need to learn how to effectively manage culture, so that they create a culture of choice rather than accept a culture of chance. Our own research shows that analysts are increasingly taking culture into account in investment decisions, and the pressure from regulators means that boards will inevitably place culture at the center of the governance and executive agenda.
“Culture is not a passing fad. In fact, we are seeing increasing evidence that culture and business performance are intrinsically linked.”
Aligning culture with business strategy must be an ongoing process. How does an organization avoid losing that alignment?
In most organizations, there is a natural cycle for strategy development. A three-to five-year strategy will be developed, focusing on the long term, and looking at the big picture of what is happening in the world and in the organization. Aligned with this process and the content of the strategy, a target culture will be defined or reviewed, which will set the pace for the next few years from a cultural perspective. The planning process that takes place on a yearly basis determines what will be done in the year ahead. It is a good time to review the culture journey and identify the elements that may need to be dialed up or down.
Generally speaking, does one meet much resistance when trying to change an organization’s culture, and how do you best deal with it?
It is impossible to change culture if everyone remains static and within their comfort zone. So, when you are transforming and shifting how people operate on a day-to-day basis, it often feels uncomfortable. However, as with any change there will be some people who are already demonstrating the new way of working, and others who are open to the change. The goal is to really focus on these groups of people and give them a voice in your business. We find the strongest resistance comes when leaders espouse a new culture, a new way of working (the talk), but then do not follow that through by changing their behavior, changing the decisions that they make, changing the systems, setting and holding people to new standards (the walk). Importantly we find that when the talk and the walk disconnect, mistrust grows and the relationship between leaders and employees breaks down. This often shows up as resistance. Our strongest advice is that leaders need to walk their own talk.
What are the challenges of growing an organization like Walking the Talk ?
A high-growth, global consulting firm like Walking The Talk must ensure it is always “fit for purpose” as it progresses rapidly through the enterprise growth gears. Leadership of the firm has to scale – entrepreneurial opportunism becomes supplemented by professional leadership and management. Leaders increasingly work “on the business” and not exclusively “in the business.” Systematic success (working smarter) needs to evolve from the heroic success (working harder) of the formative years. The profile of clients shifts – clients of necessity need to become clients of choice, ensuring that we are always working with those who are able to take full advantage of our ever-increasing capability, and fully value the outcomes we accomplish with them. Despite our multi-year, multi-geography record of success with clients using our core, customizable methodology, we must ensure that the firm’s intellectual property is continuously innovated and developed to respond to the increasingly sophisticated needs and expectations of each next tier of clients. Our talent pool must grow with our client base, and be regularly enriched with A-players in multiple geographies. Systems and processes must be capable of supporting every next phase of growth, and the increasing complexity and globality of our business.
As you grow is there a risk of losing old clients?
Yes. Having a consistent, yet customizable methodology at the core of the work we undertake is central to our success. But we never underestimate the importance of the client/consultant relationships that get built over time in an engagement, or series of engagements. As the firm grows, and the need exists to leverage consultants across a broader client base, challenges can arise when access to a particular “trusted advisor” becomes less of a given and more of an ask.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Will Schatz, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media