It’s very easy for the C-suite to discuss and implement an initiative to ‘change them’ asking employees to go first. This strategy always results in failure – yes always. I will never forget one of my earliest change initiatives of my own. The initiative was focused on a productivity turnaround, with the goal of saving the organization $10 million. The overriding landmine, in my opinion, as to why so many change initiatives and culture projects fail is due to ego. When you truly boil it down to its root cause, the TOP leader does not want to go first!
Why? Because they must reveal who they truly are. That’s an extremely uncomfortable position of vulnerability to expose to your people if you’re not comfortable in your own skin. The reason Step 2 in the 7-Steps to Become an Elegant Leader is if you want to be a great leader, you must first come to grips with who you are, whose you are and why you’re the way you are. If you can’t, then you’re not going to have the results you must have to be successful long-term, nor will you have strong enough relationships to carry you AND the organization, WHEN, not IF the ‘shit hits the fan.’
We all take our good and our bad behaviors with us when we move from one company to the next. It’s a simple fact of life. Once you’re comfortable in your new surroundings, you WILL let down your guard and, yes, all the cracks – false assumptions, limiting beliefs, bad behaviors and habits – will surface. You cannot hide from it and you cannot run from it. It takes courage, conviction and accountability to want to change and to have someone help you through this change. Too many executives and business professionals I work with push back very strongly here, because they all think it’s ‘someone else’s responsibility’ and not them.
Building a relationship with the top leader is the single biggest factor for our organizations success. Until we create a safe environment for the top leader, nothing of value can be established. Trust and cooperation begin to emerge when the top leader understands ‘we have your back, regardless if you have ours.’ We prove our worth, value and reputation every day by being who we say we are in living it. This example is what we translate and transfer to the top leader so they have a model they can exhibit to their own people. When you ask your employees to go first, you signal to everyone the ‘Us versus Them’ in a myriad of ways. You demonstrate it’s for ‘the team’ but not the executives – we know what we’re doing – WRONG! It’s a societal strain and we see it everyday in government, too. How well do you think any employee embraces change when leaders don’t go first after that point? Exactly!
Change Land Mine #2: Will You Get Your House in Order
We actually call this step – Step O. Step O of getting your house in order is taken directly from the Toyota Production System. The two main pillars of the Toyota way are ‘Continuous Improvement’ and ‘Respect for One Another.’ What does that mean for you in any change or initiative? It’s valuable in refocusing your organization on core principles; too often we’re looking for the next new idea. Are you tracking here? You’re getting two-for-one.
Toyota has been working since 1937 to instil in each employee the desire to be more, and to achieve more; to create an environment of enthusiasm where people are rewarded for their efforts; a challenging environment, of what we know and do, what we don’t know and being prepared to change things to make continuous improvements. It’s an environment of respect – respecting the individuality of each person within the group, respecting their contributions, their ideas, as well as their cultural or personal beliefs.
We take everyone through Step O with continuous improvement and respect for one another that redefine what your corporate DNA (dynamic natural ability) is expected to become, provide a way of operating that is recognized by each and every member and enables you to sustain success in the future. How well do you think employees embrace Step O when they realize they can safely make the changes in their respective roles that deliver continuous improvement and respect for one another? Exactly!
Change Landmine #3: Adopting Another Culture
It’s very easy to get carried away with the motivating and inspired cultures of Ritz-Carlton, Disney, Zappos and others. Some companies will even take change to the extremes and adopt or copy their culture or parts of their culture and wonder ‘why didn’t it work’. It’s not who you are. You shape your culture, you lead your culture and you can exhibit how people are expected to behave, but you cannot mirror another company’s culture. 1) they don’t have your people, 2) no two people are alike; thus you’re not setting a realistic expectation even if your motives and intentions are good.
What you can do is look at how other organizations behave and shape their habits. When you begin to exhibit and communicate the expectations to the people you lead and they do the same to their people, then you’re beginning to earn the right to advance and move your climate and culture forward. It has more to do with trust, respect, perspective, cooperation and empathy more than it does with posters, banners and collateral.
So yes, the same analogy about good vs. poor managers applies here to good vs. poor methods of implementing a culture change. We all learn more about what not to do more often than what to do, unfortunately. Many of my peers immediately respond with ‘have them take an assessment’ or measure where they are or have a retreat or some other jumping off point. While most of these responses have validity, what’s most important, MOST IMPORTANT is for the client to decide whether they find value in an assessment or some measuring tool. Remember, they’re tools and yes they provide good data, maybe not precise data but they yield the oportunity to have high-level discussions that uncover insights about where the company is today. The second point is the data must be shared with the employees so everyone will know something’s different – they’re acting on it vs. doing nothing and back to the same ‘ole, same ‘ole. How do you think they’ll respond if you have them ‘take another test’ and do nothing with the information? Exactly!
We keep things very simple and practical. Why? Because, they’re very powerful when everyone understands what’s going on, why we’re doing it and how it gets implemented. Here’s 3 key principles we deliver with each engagement:
Define What Growth and High-Performance Is – the outcomes, values, behaviors and habits
The Top Leader Goes First Always – that’s why you’re called the leader
The Chocolate Fountain of Engagement – the leader involves his layer of the fountain and the leaders of the next layer involve their layer of the fountain and so on. One Team. One Message.
Have you had a conversation on what’s working and what’s not? You have nothing to lose and I have many more conversations where a change initiative may not be best ‘at this time’ given what some executives have shared. Sometimes you need to build the bench first, or weed out some of the cancer by showing your leadership instead of tolerating mediocrity. There’s numerous factors to walk through and the consequences from those actions and non-actions. No strings, no obligations and no pitch either. +1 205 4822177 or perhaps the phone weighs 50# and you’re not quite ready, then grab this simple self assessment on readiness.
I’m often chided about how I deliver my message on culture and what market it attracts. The pond is very large, but unfortunately very shallow. Maybe you have the time and luxury to invest in one of the Big Four or you’re referred by a friend-of-a friend to a college classmate – all great things if you get what you want. My message is simple, practical and frankly it’s pretty powerful…find people who believe what I believe. Some of you will remember this commercial – it’s really what we do for companies that need our help. We can help you now or we can help you later, but we will be coming to help you…and besides you needed to smile with what you’re dealing with!