Culture is Like the Wind.

It is invisible, yet its effect can be seen and felt. When it is blowing in your direction, it makes for smooth sailing. When it is blowing against you, everything is more difficult.

For organizations seeking to become more adaptive and innovative, culture change is often the most challenging part of any transformation.  Another challenge is the scar tissue many executives have when they hear the word ‘transformation.’ I’ve even recommended to the C-suites I’ve worked with, whenever they hear that word, turn and run as fast as possible in the opposite direction. Why? Because someone’s selling something!  Innovation demands new behaviors AND habits from leaders, employees and everyone in between the organization across all divisions and geographies. Instead of being antithetical to corporate cultures historically focused on operational excellence and efficiency, learn and demonstrate how business gets done in a way that preserves the core existence of the organiztion – it’s highest purpose – by having each other’s backs with every interaction and with every relationship up, down and across.

One sure way to fail with your culture change is to press through a top-down mandate. Any change even the slightest of policy changes live in the collective hearts, heads and habits of people and their shared perception of “how things are done around here.” Someone with authority can demand compliance, but they cannot dictate optimism, trust, conviction, or creativity. I cant make you trust me and neither can you demand that of your people.

Instead of plastering cutesie new slogans on motivational posters and repeating a message in all-hands meetings, the leadership team, with our help, begins by quietly using messages to start guiding their own [the leadership team’s] decisions. The goal is to demonstrate ideas in action, not talk about it. Talk’s cheap. Behaviors will revert to the negative under stress until they become habits. And, habits – of being and of doing – are what’s required for employees to see, hear, feel, understand and adopt once the leaders go first. This is an example of our no where to hide coaching culture transferMOTION.

We avoid transformations, paradignm shifts and other forms of Management Weaselspeak or political correctness. As your stake in the ground, we influence leaders to understand and adapt to transfer their mindset and put into motion the Elegant Leader with Voltage model because it simply works to influence and impact cultures across the globe.

Once leadership demonstrates ‘they get it’, it’s time to more broadly share the stated purpose — first internally with all employees, and then externally. At our internal launch events, employees learn about their purpose and are invited to be part of realizing it. Everyone is asked to make a personal promise about how they, in their current role, would contribute to the message of the higher purpose or the ‘why’ the company exists. Everyone must be internally grounded in the clarity, hope and vision of what their impression of their own contribution is to the overall organization. Early on, we unveil, in concert with the client company, an identity and communication vehicles that publicly state the message, its purpose and how together we implement it. Along the critical path, our client companies establish small groups of “innovation studios” similar to volunteer armies to offer additional structural support within the company. Executives see changes in the company culture immediately.

What Does a Culture Influencing Initiative Look Like?

We often think of movements as starting with a call to action. But movement research suggests  they actually start with emotion — dissatisfaction with the status quo and a broad sense that ‘we’ve had enough’ and ‘if we don’t change anything…nothing will happen.’ Discontent evolves into a movement when a voice arises providing a positive vision and a clear path forward that’s within the power of the employee population.

One of the secrets, if there is such a thing, is implementation comes from small groups of employees. Why? Because, social movements typically start small. They begin with a group of passionate enthusiasts who deliver a few modest wins. While these wins are small, they’re powerful in demonstrating efficacy to nonparticipants and to those who are ‘anti’ or ‘not in the boat’, and they help the movement gain momentum. The movement gathers force and scale once the small groups successfully co-opt existing networks and influencers. Leaders then leverage their momentum and influence to replicate the change in the formal power structures and rules of the organization.

Practices for Leading a Cultural Movement

Leaders should not be too quick or simplistic in their translation of social movement dynamics into change management plans. That said, leaders can learn a lot from the practices of skillful influencers.

Reframe. Successful leaders are often masters of framing situations in terms that stir emotion and incite action. Framing can also apply social pressure to conform. In terms of organizational culture change, simply explaining the need for change won’t cut it. Creating a sense of urgency is helpful, but is short-lived. To harness people’s full, lasting commitment and to create sustainable change they must feel a deep desire – a responsibility – to change. A leader can do this by reframing change within the organization’s purpose — the “why we exist” question. A good organizational purpose calls for the pursuit of greatness in service of others to others. It gives meaning to work, builds individual emotion, and creates action.

Earn Quick Wins. Influencers are very good at recognizing the power of celebrating small wins. Research has shown that demonstrating efficacy is one way that movements bring in people who are sympathetic but not yet mobilized to join. When it comes to organizational culture change, leaders too often fall into the trap of declaring the culture shifts they hope to see. Instead, they need to highlight examples of actions they hope to see more of within the culture – catch ‘them’ doing it right! Sometimes, these examples already exist within the culture, but at a limited scale. Other times, they need to be created.

Leverage Internal Networks. Effective influencers are very good at building coalitions, bridging disparate groups to form a larger and more diverse network united to our common purpose. They know how to activate existing networks for their purposes. Look at the leaders of the 1960’s civil rights movement, who recruited members through the strong community ties formed in churches. But recruiting new members to a cause is not the only way that movement leverages social networks. They also use social networks to spread ideas and broadcast their wins.

Re-establish Safe Environment. Influencers are experts at creating or identifying spaces within the change initiatives to craft a strategy and discuss tactics.  These are spaces where the rules of engagement and behaviors of influencers, protagonists, and supporters are different from those of the dominant culture.

The dominant culture and structure of today’s organizations are perfectly designed to produce their current behaviors and outcomes, regardless of whether those outcomes are the ones you want. If your hope is for individuals to act differently, it helps to change their surrounding conditions to be more supportive of the new behaviors so they can flourish into healthy habits. And remember, influencing culture only happens when people take action –  start there.

We offer a 90-day Quick Start program for you to test the waters. Elegant Leaders will run a pilot to ensure the direction is clear and the strategy is sound. Stop putting Band-aids on a broken leg!

Click here for a FREE Gift – Does Your Company Have the Cultural Capacity for High Performance and Growth?

What we teach, coach you and your team can be implemented for years to come. We are the stake-in-the-ground that’s been missing from other service firms. If you don’t believe you’re going to stop at nothing to achieve the results you must have to be successful, then you shouldn’t invest. That’s why our clients consistently receive 5-10X on their investment – they get it done! Call me to discuss what’s working, what’s not and how we fill in the gap with you. 205-482-2177 or click here to email.

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