By Daniel Bobinski
Perhaps you’ve seen something like the following: A group of employees attend an inspirational workshop and they’re motivated to make improvements in their team’s operations. But several weeks later, their motivation has dissipated, and they fall back into the status quo.
This dilemma also happens in the C-suite. A CEO reads a book that inspires him to make changes in his organization. He’s excited, so he gets his entire leadership team to read the book. But six months later, nothing has changed.
The problem in these two scenarios is not that people don’t want the improvements. The problem is they fail to follow through. To address these all-too-common scenarios, we need to consider several basic root causes.
- Lack of a plan
- Lack of a cheerleader
Let’s start with planning. According to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, culture change needs a structure and a process that’s thought out. In other words, specific action items need to be identified. According to the Wharton School, culture change is more likely to occur when organizations look at changing things that affect the culture instead of focusing on the culture itself.
Larry Hrebiniak, author of “Making Strategy Work: Leading Effective Execution and Change” and an Emeritus Professor at the Wharton School’s Department of Management, is quoted as saying, “Appealing to managers to change behaviors, thinking, values, and beliefs rarely works.” As a certified behavior analyst and certified values analyst, I heartily agree. People’s behavioral styles are hardwired from birth, and although people can adapt away from their core styles, it can’t happen too much or too often because of the stress involved. And getting people to change their values is like pushing pudding uphill by blowing through a straw. Our values are established in our earliest years, and they change only in the face of significant emotional events.
Therefore, the best way to engage a culture change is to make small, incremental changes on things that affect culture, and to do so using a clarified process. This means setting goals, and being consistent in tracking them.
The opening paragraph’s examples of the excited employees and the inspired CEO serve merely as catalysts. They’re the spark. If you want to get a fire going, you need the spark, but the spark has to be fanned into a flame. The sparks in the opening examples burned out because people didn’t know how to fan the flame. What follows is an outline of the steps needed.
Part I of a good culture change plan involves:
- Identifying “what is”
- Identifying “where we want to be”
- Gaining leadership’s commitment to make it happen
The first two steps usual revolve around results and performance issues. Questions might include, “What results are we getting now?” And, “What different results do we want in the future?” A second set of questions need to be, “What behaviors are getting our current results?” And, “What different behaviors will get us the results that we want?”
None of these answers can be glossed over lightly – nor quickly. The more time spent considering the various angles surrounding these questions, the clearer your answers will be. This is important, because your answers to these questions set the stage for everything else that follows.
Once you have answers for the first set of questions, you’re ready to move to Part II:
- Identify what will get measured
- Identify which actions will build buy-in and momentum
- Identify realistic timelines for when you’d like to see certain things
- Identify a popular cheerleader to keep the project moving forward
Please note that the “cheerleader” is the key to the plan’s success. Whoever gets chosen must have strong emotional intelligence and have a deep commitment to building teams and generating enthusiasm in others. Another skill your cheerleader must have is the ability to delegate. The “by when” aspect associated with goal setting helps the organization move forward on the projected path and in keeping with the desired timelines.
Remember I said that people’s behavioral style and their individual values are established from early in life, and not something you want to change? The key here, as I explain in my book “Creating Passion-Driven Teams,” is connecting people’s individual preferences with the desired vision of the organization. A person who can help employees see how their natural styles and preferences can connect to an organization’s bigger picture is a person who can bring out the passion to succeed. This is part of the skillset needed by your cheerleader.
In contrast, a person who drives others through intimidation or browbeating may get results in the short term, but only the short term. Those results will not last.
Part III of your culture change plan is implementation. It might take on different appearances in different organizations, but the basic plan is:
- Put the action items you identified in Part II on the calendar
- Paint the desired big picture in broad strokes and talk about it often
- Have at least one person ensure the calendared action items stay on the agenda
One way the CEO in our opening paragraph could have implemented the changes he wanted could have started with a “book club” meeting, where his team discussed the book. As thoughts and ideas emerged at that meeting, he could have asked two people on his team to take ownership of making things happen. They would need to desire the changes too, plus have the skills to oversee the project.
These C-suite leaders may identify another cheerleader who works on ironing out the details in Parts I and II, but they will serve as the leadership catalysts. They will help create the word picture that they talk about regularly throughout the organization, and they will make sure that the action items in this plan stay on the calendar.
Bottom line, if you’re trying to make improvements on the status quo, a plan like this can get you the changes you want.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. runs two businesses. One helps teams and individuals learn how to use Emotional Intelligence. The other helps companies improve their training programs. He’s also a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 208-375-7606.