Cultural change is complex and almost three-quarters of initiatives attempted by organizations end up in failure, according to recent research.
How do we increase the success rates?
The answers are not to be found in old-style management thinking. Instead, training leadership so that they better understand the behaviour of their people and approaching the process of change with a new mindset can help turn disaffected, de-motivated, and disengaged employees into agents of change.
A new cultural change paradigm
The first change that many leaders need to make is to change their own paradigms of what is required. Cultural change is not a linear problem with definite and predictable results; it is a complex one where all parts are inter-related and the end result is not known.
This leads us to consider the actual people who are tasked with carrying out the desired change through the organization. Neuroscience has identified a series of social and cognitive needs common to every human being in group situations. These provide the main key to overcoming the barriers to change that often are raised by disgruntled and unmotivated employees
Addressing these needs unlocks many of doors that have been slammed shut and helps to engage employees, involving them in the desired change.
Understanding the common social needs
When social and cognitive needs are recognised and met, people who previously resisted cultural change can be transformed into willing agents for it.
People in the team environments that are typical of most organizations need:
A clear sense of their roles and value in the group
A sense that they are respected and that they are respectful of others
Freedom to express who they are and how they feel
A clear sense of what they excel at and what sets them apart
The ability to draw on their strengths and leverage from other people
Support from and for others
The ability to track progress and see incremental improvement
The problem is that traditional management thinking doesn’t teach the above. Neuroscience has helped uncover these common needs and, while they are simple to understand, acting upon them in a meaningful and effective way takes careful guidance.
Applying the understanding
These needs will always present themselves in team situations – but unless leadership understands them and guides the process, they may not be satisfied constructively, in a deliberate and strategically aligned way. Instead they may present themselves in a reactive and personally driven manner, which is not helpful for any team.
When leadership has an in-depth understanding of the fundamental building blocks of human behaviour, and starts to meet the needs described, their people are more likely to actively and positively shape the culture of the organization sustainably from the inside out.
People are far more influenced by personal and emotional issues than leadership often allows for. So if we try to approach cultural change from the angle of rationality we will never discover why the intended change is not effective.