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Leadership Skill Drill: How to Effect Culture Change
In the early days of the industrial revolution, change was significant, but it took place over the course of years or even decades. For someone inside a company, change may have felt slow to negligible, and leaders weren’t called upon to act quickly.
Today, technological innovation can make change imperative on a much faster timescale. You can try to make rotary dial work in a smartphone world, but while you’re doing that, your competitors are running roughshod over you to the top of the industry.
Technological change doesn’t happen in a vacuum, however. Cultural change is inevitable as innovation proceeds because existing team members must learn new skills, and new personnel with previously unnecessary skills will have to be brought onboard. In other words, change is going to happen whether you want it or not. The choice is yours whether you get out in front of change and help shape it, or whether you let change bowl you over.
The Transformation Imperative
Traditional operating models are becoming obsolete at a pace never before seen, and the stalwarts of the old business world are sometimes being overtaken by smaller, more agile players with innovative business models.
But you can’t simply upgrade everyone’s IT equipment and software and expect that to fix everything. Along with technological change comes cultural change, even if everyone on your team enthusiastically embraces innovation. Intent is a prerequisite for successful culture change. Otherwise, change will go where it will, and that may or may not be beneficial.
Understanding Your Current and Future Culture
You have to know where you are before you can map out where you want to go. What are your current strengths? Where do opportunities for improvement exist? What are current pain points within your company? Traditional programmatic approaches to change, such as redrawing organizational charts, won’t work unless you have a clear view of where you stand and a clear intent on where you want the company to go.
Of course, you must have a keen understanding of what corporate culture actually is. It is the sum total of the character, values, emotions, beliefs, and behaviors of everyone in the organization. It is based on history, how you have overcome challenges, and where you have fallen short in the past. You have to understand your culture from three perspectives:
- Capability Culture: What can we do?
- Commitment Culture: What will we do?
- Alignment Culture: What must we do?
Answering these questions helps you plan change proactively, rather than letting your organization react to whatever the market or industry throws at it.
Key Steps to Culture Transformation
Though true cultural transformation doesn’t come about with the stroke of the CEO’s pen, top leadership must buy into the need for and direction of change in order for change to be beneficial. Secondly, leadership must recognize the inherent vulnerability in admitting that the company can’t keep going as it is without suffering consequences. Thirdly, top leadership must accept responsibility for creating a blueprint for a changed, improved culture.
In addition, everyone, from the top to the bottom of the organizational chart, must realize that cultural change requires changing hearts and minds. Only then can behaviors match new attitudes. Furthermore, recognizing existing talent and knowing where additional talent is needed are two critical steps to ensure your company can do what it wants to do. Finally, companies must measure progress throughout the change process and must be willing to correct course when necessary.
How Culture Change Consultants Can Help
Any leader who believes that cultural change can be effected through bringing in a consultant and forcing change that way is delusional. Culture change consultants work within an environment of commitment to change, or else they won’t be effective. There is little point in hiring culture change consultants without thoroughly understanding their background, their philosophy, and their track record.
That said, culture change consultants can and do help organizations effect the changes necessary to move forward and avoid stagnation. Cultural transformation is unique and tailored to the organization, and in my many years of research and practice in corporate culture transformation, I have learned much, had myths debunked, and developed a comprehensive view of what cultural change is and is not.