A significant challenge to inspiring culture change is shifting the focus from a rational, mental exercise, (we should do X to get result Y), to an emotional, personal orientation that generates a high level of excitement and energy directed towards the desired outcome. In other words, we try to “fix” the culture by using our heads instead of creating a new culture that is inspired by our hearts and aligned with our values.
Culture change is often initiated by management based on a recipe found in the latest, hot business book or using an “eight-step plan to transform your culture” delivered by a consultant. While these tools can be very helpful, they will ultimately fail if they become just another top-down process to be deployed on unsuspecting employees who may assume this is just another ploy to get them to work harder or display more of that engagement thing management keeps going on about.
Here’s my suggestion. Before you spend any time on the how, take the time to fully engage the leadership team and employees on the what and why. A great way to kick-start the process is to bring small, cross-team groups together and focus on one powerful visualization question layered with different emotional and sensory links that invite people to imagine and experience rather than just rationalize the rewards of the change effort.
IF YOU COULD CREATE AN AMAZING PLACE TO WORK…
What would it look like?
What would it feel like?
What would people be doing?
What would people be saying?
What would be different?
What would you see when you walk into the room?
What would it be like to come to work each day?
There are many more options for creating powerful questions from this single root. You can come up with whatever set of questions that work for you and even add another root phrase if you like.
If you really want to create the right environment, ask people to close their eyes as you walk them through these questions. Challenge them to use their imaginations and really try to see and experience the amazing workplace they create in their minds. You want to build mental scenes from a movie, not just labels and words.
It will take some time for people to get into the groove and overcome the initial awkwardness and tendency towards descriptions, but stick with it. Let people meditate on these questions in silence for a time then ask a few people to voluntarily share what they imagined during the process. There are always a few enthusiastic souls who will help break the ice.
Finally, use post-it notes, flip charts, white boards, a collage of photos and words cut out from a stack of random magazines or any creative approach that works for you to capture all the ideas in the room and build a visual representation of the future organization. Summarize the common themes that emerge and see if the group can agree on the most important areas for focus. The collected ideas can be displayed throughout the organization on walls or in the lobby as a daily reminder of the type of organization you want to become.
The desired outcome is an emotional, visual connection with a set of ideas that show us what is possible if we pursued this change. I like to close the process with two final questions:
If we really could create this kind of workplace, would you be willing to do the work to make it happen?
What would the process look like?
For the sake of time and word count, I’ve left out a lot of details for this exercise as it really is quite flexible. It is important to repeat this process with as many groups as possible so that you feel you have a good representation from across the organization. You may choose to start with the leadership team and fan out from there or do it in reverse to see how the leadership vision matches up to the input from front line employees.
It may be difficult to do this with every person in a large organization, but there are creative ways you can bring others into the process at later stages. Over time, with input from these small groups, you should be able to construct the “what and why” foundation for the culture change.
If I may, let me add one more challenge. This process will have far greater impact if it is facilitated by the leaders of the organization rather than HR or a third party, (assuming there is a reasonable level of trust already in place). It shows a level of commitment and engagement that may be questioned if you bring in the “hired guns” or pass off responsibility to others in the organization.
Nothing about this process requires special skills, just a willingness to facilitate the questions, listen carefully and organize the ideas into a coherent picture. Something most managers are required to do on a regular basis. If culture matters as much as you say it does, put your time where your mouth is.
In the end, you will not get 100% buy in through this effort alone. You will create momentum along with a vision and a benchmark that can be attached to all the efforts to follow and that represents, at least to some degree, the personal values and ideals of everyone in the organization. The tactical steps that follow should be designed to reinforce and drive progress towards the amazing workplace you collectively imagined.
Remember, hearts first, then minds.
Please share your thoughts, ideas, comments. Thank you.
Photo Credit – Yasin Hassan