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Culture change requires grit and courage, CEO and philanthropist Carol Lavin Bernick advises CLC audience

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Jul 09, 2019

Are you a business leader tasked with implementing a culture change in your organization? Make sure the project remains a top priority, and focus appropriate budget and resources across the company, not just the human resources department. Additionally, make fixing the culture a job or several jobs if possible, measure your progress and reinforce stated values by celebrating good performance.

That’s the advice from Carol Lavin Bernick (right), a Chicago business leader and philanthropist who addressed business leaders and community members at the College of Lake County June 27. Her remarks, based on a discussion with CLC President Dr.Photo of CLC President Dr. Lori Suddick and Carol Lavin Bernick Lori Suddick, were part of a discussion titled “The Power of Culture: Leadership, Innovation and Institutional Transformation.” 

Instituting a culture change begins with asking lots of questions on everything from products to operations to seeking candid feedback from one’s direct reports and peers. “When I took over as president for Alberto Culver’s Consumer Products Group in the mid-1990s, I had 20 direct reports, and I asked each of them to rate the company, their job and their boss,” said Bernick, who spearheaded a culture change at the company, which eventually was sold in 2011 to Unilever for $3.7 billion. “We also have employees complete peer review forms. You can’t be afraid to ask for candid feedback or advice. The smartest people I know ask for help.”

Culture change also means helping employees understand the organization’s strengths and weaknesses. It also includes empowering employees and helping them set measurable goals for their work, said Bernick. “In 1998, we developed the concept of spelling out ‘individual economic values,’ or IEVs—short statements that describe how individuals contribute to our profitability. It's a big deal to us to get these right.”

Another change Bernick implemented was instituting a company priority to serve the greater community. “When profits grew, we contributed more to charity,” she said. “Earning a competitive salary is important, but employees also want to feel important and make a difference in their communities.”

Bernick is now a philanthropist as well as CEO of Polished Nickel Capital Management, a privately held company that manages diversified investments. Her involvement in philanthropic organizations includes The Carol Lavin Bernick Family Foundation, The Friends of Prentice of Northwestern Memorial Healthcare and the newly established Enchanted Backpack. The Chicago-area nonprofit provides books, school supply essentials, winter clothing and other needed resources to the region’s most underserved elementary and middle schools and community organizations.

One local business leader who found Bernick’s advice helpful was Leslie Kischer, vice president and branch manager of Gurnee-based Assured Healthcare Staffing.

“She gave many practical messages, such as the need for a leader to be vulnerable, ask questions and tell the truth, even if it hurts,” said Kischer, who is helping coordinate a cultural change as her company grows. “Another good take-home message is that employees need to ‘own’ a culture change in order to make it happen in your organization. The advice was very useful, and for CLC to host this kind of discussion is fantastic.”

The discussion is part of the 50 Free Events for 50 Years event series during CLC’s 50th anniversary year. For details on other events, visit Join in the conversation with #CLC50th on social media.

About College of Lake County:

College of Lake County is an innovative community college in Lake County, Ill. that transforms lives with its variety of accessible, quality education options. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, College of Lake County provides affordable options in a state-of-the-art setting close to home. A large student network, with small class sizes,provides advantages to our students on a career-related program or a path toward a transfer degree. We’re proud to serve the diverse needs of our community and student body. Connect to your future today at College of Lake County.