Having clearly outlined why change is needed and the opportunity that change could generate, too many culture change programmes then leave people to make the changes themselves without very much more explanation. So often, staff are handed new values and a new purpose, there’s some motivational meetings and perhaps a video and gift, and then the business just expects them to get on with it. The thinking seems to be that this gives people personal empowerment; that it brings the change alive for them.
It does nothing of the sort because as Leo Tolstoy so rightly observed, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Such an approach shortchanges the opportunity because it leaves unanswered the real question: “how exactly is this going to happen?”.
You can’t leave unanswered: “How exactly is this going to happen?”
The best hope is that people will make a viable stab at interpreting what they perceive to be the new expectations and attempt to adjust. The more likely scenario is that they will add the new words to their corporate lexicon and continue doing what they are used to doing and comfortable with on the grounds that the onus for change falls on others in the organisation. The most cynical will dismiss the entire initiative as another “warm handshake” that will disappear if they ignore it.
Getting this right in my view is about linking the dream that you have asked people to make with the reality that they currently find themselves in. It’s about laying out a programme of systematic change that transits people from the comfortable to the exciting.
Four questions that move cultures forward
1. What are we going to do to help ourselves? – How is the organisation as a whole going to change and where and when are people going to see that change happening around them? By starting with collective change, championed and driven by leaders, a culture signals its intention to commit. These changes are the strategic responses required to reset the course of the whole ship. They provide people with a context within which to see what is being asked of them. They answer “Why?” and “Where?”
2. What are we going to do to help you? – How is the organisation going to back and support change for individuals? I find that clearly spelling out what people are going to receive by way of training/support in order to learn/relearn the skills and behaviours that will be expected of them reinforces the wider commitment and provides people with clear actions they can take. But don’t stop there. Also spell out: How are we going to listen to you? How will we review your work and your progress from now on? What are we asking you to add to your workload? What are we going to remove from your workload so that you will have the time and energy to do this? This shows commitment and recognition.
3. What are you going to do to help you? – Challenge each person to articulate the changes that they believe they will need to make to how they think and work in order to help realise the new goal. This asks people to identify in specific terms the shortfalls they would like to correct and the potential they would like to develop. It puts people in charge of their own change. It resolves “Who?”, “When?” and “What?”
4. Finally – what are you going to do to help us? – This asks people to quantify the contribution they believe they can make to the big change. Pitched properly, this question empowers people to articulate the possibilities they see for the organisation within the work they do. Personal ownership is the key to encouraging and realising continuous improvement because it promotes a “suggestion culture” where people are encouraged to initiate rather than simply follow.