Steven's Blog

Change First, Culture Later

If you are a leader seeking rapid change in your company, forget about culture. Culture will take care of itself. Focus on new ways of doing things. The genesis of a new culture results from a change in behavior, not the other way around. Change the way people do things. Culture change follows as a result.

Culture is nothing more than a collection of ways people do things. This is true both for countries and companies. For example, business leaders often tell me that they need to change their company culture to be innovative. They want their managers and staff to proactively propose new ideas to improve the business rather than simply waiting for direction from above and implementing. Sometimes a leader may add that he or she is not sure the company’s people are even capable of innovation. While they are talking about “culture,” it is a change in behavior that these leaders are seeking. Culture change may seem daunting, but getting people to try a new way of doing things is a lot easier than you might think.

For example, one such leader had been seeking a change to a more innovative culture for a few years with limited success. He was beginning to wonder if it was even possible with the current group of managers on his executive team (it was as it turns out), or if there was something about Japanese culture that was holding people back (there isn’t).

I worked with him and his executive team for a half-day taking them through some straightforward processes. As a result, collectively they came up with forty or so business innovation ideas, and picked four to develop further with a business case, three were deemed attractive enough to take forward with testing and implementation. If successful, these three ideas alone will significantly improve top-line revenues and bottom line growth within eighteen months with a ten-to-one return on investment. Opportunities that offer those kind of returns are rare, and this team identified three in a few hours, and still have yet to vet at least two dozen new ideas they had generated.

Nothing is more persuasive in getting people to change than trying a new way of doing things that work and can bring success. By the end of the workshop, the executive managers were committed to repeating the process they had just learned regularly on their own.

I am extremely effective at leading people to success and getting them excited about a new way of doing things in a workshop, but what about sustainability when the workshop is over?

One-time success and excitement in a workshop is rarely enough. How do you keep managers committed with the incessant demands of everyday work? After all, should the new behavior cease, the culture reverts to what it had been, because like I said, culture is no more than a collection of behaviors.

The key to sustainability of any change is what I call PASS—Process, Accountability, Scheduling and Support. What do I mean by these?

  1. Process. People need to be educated in a new way of doing things. The new way should be documented in some manner so that people can refer back to it when needed, teach it to others, and improve it as there is learning through experience.
  2. Accountability. The leader must hold each manager accountable for the new behaviors, not just business results.
  3. Scheduling. There is no such thing as being too busy to do something important. If you are not doing it, it is because it doesn’t have priority. Managers are rarely too busy to see a customer, too busy to attend a meeting or conference call with their superiors, or too busy to attend a critical meeting or conference organized by their head office overseas. These activities are put in people’s calendars, and they are immovable. If you want to make sure that there’s a changed way of doing things and activities related to innovation stick, you put activities in the calendar and treat them with same degree of priority as, say, a meeting with a key customer.
  4. Support. In any significant change, most people benefit from a degree of extra support, whether coaching, mentoring, advisory, working with and learning from peers, to name a few. Support helps people navigate the inevitable setbacks that occur and keep them moving forward when unsure.

In your business, how you implement your version of PASS is up to you, but for sustainability of a change, PASS in some form is essential.

Nothing is more persuasive than a successful trial. Click To Tweet

Practice your version of PASS, and the change will stick.


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