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Ideas to Read and Pass Along

Kevin & Jackie Freiberg

8 Culture Change Strategies

Avoid them at your own peril!

1. Creating a new culture calls for new methods.

  • If existing culture dictates the way changes will be implemented, then change will be very difficult—you must blow up the old rules!
  • Creating a new culture will be extremely difficult if you insist on doing it by playing with the old rules. This is because the existing culture significantly influences what people consider permissible and appropriate. You may have to turn the volume down on political correctness in order to get things done.
  • Think about it, the old culture is designed to protect itself! Change the old ways of doing things and it’s like waking a sleeping giant. Remember the definition of insanity: doing things the same way expecting a different result? Well, trying to change the culture using the old rules is taking a step toward insanity—the rules themselves are part of the problem!

2. Champion the vision and re-channel the energy.

  • When change hits an organization, people get disoriented. It’s easy to lose focus and lose your footing. Unless there is a compelling vision to focus everyone’s attention, fear and doubt will take over.
  • When change blows through an organization warning systems go off in people’s minds. There is a heightened sensitivity, awareness and energy that fills the air. If you don’t move quickly people will take this energy and waste it on self-protective behavior or fueling the fires of resistance.
  • Energy gravitates toward clear goals and determination—away from uncertainty and fuzzy objectives. Start by communicating the vision as clearly as you know it. Give people something to aim at! Be specific and avoid generalities!

3. Make your early moves bold, dramatic, and unwavering.

  • Culture change requires a unique combination of passion, courage, conviction, audacity, and determination—people need to see that you’re on the move and that you are bone serious about the effort.
  • Consequently, your early moves must be strikingly bold, lightning fast, and out of character as far as the old rules are concerned!
  • You must gain momentum quickly. People need to see your conviction and resolve or you’ll never overcome the sluggishness, apathy and resistance that set in when change hits the organization.

4. Surround yourself with talented, tough-minded nonconformists.

  • Organizations tend to hire in their own image. You must avoid the trap of surrounding yourself with people who fit in nicely with the old way of doing things. Creating a new culture is not only about changing the rules, it’s about changing the RULE MAKERS!
  • Surround yourself with people who are as passionate about the vision for a new culture as you are The key is to look for risk takers who are not afraid to think outside the box and who are willing to stand up to the heat for doing so.

5. Re-engineer the reward system to reinforce the behaviors you want.

  • Culture change won’t happen unless people see a personal return on investment for behaving in different ways. Buying into the new culture must feel good and holding on to the old culture must start to hurt.
  • If you don’t radically restructure how you reward people you’ll actually fuel the fires of resistance. Remember . . . the culture is designed to protect itself!
  • Think about it . . . the constituents you serve have changed their reward structure. You aren’t rewarded for simply showing up. Customers reward results—quality, speed, innovation!
  • So . . . change what you celebrate, honor and who you hold up as heroes. Be conscious of the way you spend your time—devote your time to those change agents and vision champions who add value.

6. Track progress, measure results, and hold people accountable.

  • The cliché is true: You get what you measure and you get what you reward. It doesn’t take people long to figure out that management keeps score on the important things.
  • Holding people accountable means paying close attention to what you feel is important. If you don’t go to the trouble to measure results, why should I go to the trouble to produce them?
  • Like a rubber band, if you relax the pull of the new culture, then the old culture will influence people to revert back to old comfortable patterns.
  • Tracking progress enables you to know where the resistance lies and where you should be allocating rewards.

7. Remove obstacles and bureaucratic practices.

  • You will gain respect and credibility by breaking the chains of bureaucracy. By freeing people from unnecessary rules and procedures, you clear the way for them to show initiative.
  • Bureaucracy is a formidable adversary—it’s the ball and chain of “the way we’ve always done it.” Your people will have a difficult time contributing to the new cause if they are shackled by the old rites, rituals and rules.

8. Establish concrete evidence and tangible results quickly through small wins.

  • Tangible pay-offs fuel the fires of motivation and contain the skeptics. It’s hard for the critics to argue with success when you can measure it in hard dollars, time saved, and percentages of re-work minimized.
  • The key here is to TELL YOUR STORY when these things happen. Make a video documenting the progress of the culture change, publicize good stories in the newsletter, hold a town hall meeting to discuss what you’ve accomplished. Advertise the success of your efforts just like you would bring a new product to market. Many culture initiatives fail because people in the trenches don’t see or hear about positive results.