Steven's Blog

Process, Not People

The key to rapid culture change in any organization is process, not people. First focus on changing processes. Attention to people comes later.

For example, in working with a leadership that was having difficulty in coming to consensus and making decisions in a timely manner, I asked them to try a process I had developed. Unconvinced, they humored me and gave it a try. As a result, they worked through a list of seventeen strategic issues requiring decisions in two hours. Previous efforts had taken weeks with no result. The CEO and many of the managers had ascribed cause to cultural and communication issues, or otherwise to personalities of certain individuals in the group. Yet simply changing processes fixed most issues right away.

Having tried the new process that works, most the managers on the leadership team were eager to repeat it for other decisions, and teach it to staff so that it may be used throughout the organization. That will change behaviors around decision-making all over the company, effectively changing the culture. There was no need to convince people of new values, change mindset, embark on elaborate training programs, or move people around or out. All it took was convincing the managers to try a new process.

Nothing is more persuasive than success, and that takes care of the rest. Click To Tweet

Some individuals simply won’t take up a new process. There are only three causes for a performance gap:

  1. “I don’t know how!”
  2. “I don’t want to!”
  3. “Even if I wanted to, I can’t!”

For each cause, the treatment is different. “I don’t know how!” is remedied with education. “Even if I wanted to, I can’t!” is remedied by removing structural impediments, conflicting policies or processes, or providing sufficient resources. “I don’t want to!” is the most insidious cause. People act in their own perceived best interests. Find out what that is, and address it, or alternatively move the person out.

Effecting culture change by focusing on people first can be like trying to boil the ocean. Yet, if you can identify behaviors key to the culture you want to create, change processes that result in that behavior. If the processes work, most people will take them up. The processes will become the norm in the organization. For the individuals who don’t take to the new processes, identify cause and use the appropriate treatment. In doing this, you will achieve steady, rapid progress in changing the culture of your organization.

For rapid cultural change, focus on process first, then on people in a second stage.

For most people, a process that works is all that is needed.


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