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Transforming your Culture: It’s complicated! Or…is it? - Cecile Thaxter: General Manager, Newmont Mining Corporation’s Phoenix/Lone Tree Operations

Posted by Cecile Thaxter on Jun 8, 2016 8:00:00 AM
Cecile Thaxter



Can you change the way you think? Can you change the way you interact? Can you change the way you function? If you answer yes, then you can change your culture. 

We often hear how difficult or impossible it is to change culture— or even to express the desire to shift the culture of an organization. To address this seemingly complicated and sensitive matter, we advocate for building or aligning culture, to avoid the taboo word “change.”

In my current role, I have challenged my team to build a winning culture. How you choose to express culture change is secondary, but it is your culture that will determine your business success. An organization’s culture is not imposed but built from within— over time. If culture is not deliberately grown, it will evolve on its own. As leaders, it is our responsibility to shape culture— actively. This undertaking calls for deliberateness.

On my journey to build a winning culture, I have experienced many emotions: surprise, joy, apprehension, sadness, enlightenment, frustration, trust, and the queen of all emotions, love. Every one of those emotions has provided fuel to keep going. I am no expert, but the marathon in which I have been running, walking and limping, has taught me some valuable lessons that are worth sharing. I encourage all leaders to envision the culture you wish to create and in doing so, consider the following:

  1. Understand the current culture and how it has evolved. Ask questions. Traverse all the layers within your organization. Test your hypotheses.
  2. Determine where and how to start. Sometimes, establishing the starting line requires trial and error and may even include a couple of false starts.
  3. Paint a picture of the desired state. Compare this picture against the current state. Gain alignment on why change is needed and how to proceed. Recognize that not everyone will get it— some being high-level leaders who are experienced and entrenched. Focus on those with high influence; get them equipped and committed or get them out.
  4. Leverage the strengths of the existing culture and tackle the burning issues that will get you closest to the desired state.
  5. Distinguish between what’s expected and what’s discretionary and clarify what’s within your control and what’s not. Too often, leaders make excuses for why change takes a long time and in doing so, become enablers instead of influencers. Sometimes, “tough love” is necessary.

In all of this, you must appeal to both the hearts and minds of your people. A core human need is to feel secure. Therefore, trusting you will precede buying into your vision.

 Are you wondering whether I am in the people business or the mining business; whether my mission is to make people happy or to generate profits?

 Wonder no more. Culture is the one competitive advantage that is truly within the control of leaders. At our operations, we produce gold, silver, and copper, yet people are our most precious resource. As leaders, we have to develop and influence our people so that they give their all— to exceed expectations and drive performance to the next level.

Culture transformation is not complicated. It typically evolves over time, and perhaps the finish line is somewhat elusive. At any rate, you will notice a difference in morale, stories, beliefs, norms, mindsets, and overall business performance.

I am still running my race, developing my Signature as I go. I believe that going the distance is well worth the sacrifice required.

How constructive is your culture? Does it bolster your vision, values, and strategy? Will it allow you to deliver on your commitments and create value for stakeholders?


Change starts with you. Are you ready? Set. Go.

Topics: Leadership, Developing People

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