A recent article by Booze & Co began by stating, “Forget the monolithic change management programs and instead focus on the elements of your culture that drive performance.” In many ways I couldn’t agree more.
The article asks the question, “what are the types of experiences that a strong culture creates?” Using Southwest airlines and others as examples, studies showed that key behaviors have to be actively managed and made visible. Companies with the most effective culture seek out and continually reinforce ‘keystone habits’ that recognizes a pattern that has the power to start a chain reaction and change other habits as it moves through an organization. Companies that recognize and encourage such habits stand to build cultures with influence that goes beyond employee engagement and directly boosts performance.
“Top-down messaging alone—no matter how compelling and inspiring—seldom produces a lasting effect on how we feel about what we do.”
Individuals are simultaneously emotional and rational, so how we feel about something often gets in the way of how we think about it. This is particularly the case when human beings are confronted with complexity. Think about big change programs, how do people typically feel about these?
If your culture isn’t firmly established, consider these four critical elements to get in sync for a quick uptake. I recommend them highly:
Identify the critical behaviors
At the same time, ask yourself:
• How visible would these behaviors be if a senior executive or an authentic informal leader started exhibiting them? (Would others throughout the organization see and recognize the change?)
• Will these behaviors be contagious enough to be spread through social networks and peer relationships? (Will key people begin to envy and emulate them?)
• What potential do the behaviors have to create real, measurable business impact? (Can you find ways to measure and track the impact early on?)
Honor the existing culture
Almost every organization has a few key cultural traits that are distinctively positive. Whether these elements are displayed on posters in the corridors or etched on desk ornaments—or not visibly celebrated at all—they are an integral part of the company’s true cultural situation. Properly recognized and drawn upon, they provide the workforce a sense of pride and purpose.
Focus on the Critical Informal Leaders
Enlist some “special forces”—credible leaders who know how to translate your critical few behaviors into specific actions within the company’s current culture. Learn from them.
Focus on integrating emotional support
It is particularly important to avoid the trap of relying too heavily on conventional approaches to culture change and change management: programmatic consistency, process rigor, engagement tracking, and so on. Neither should you get too caught up in focusing on rational arguments and shared values, relying on hierarchical channels, and motivating through “stretch targets.”