Turning Your Own People Into Agents for Cultural Change

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.

3 Steps to Driving Cultural Change

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been under fire for the lack of progress in its transition from a law enforcement agency to an integrated intelligence agency. Many are calling for a significant cultural change at the agency.

This is not a new issue for the FBI as they have been struggling for years. They have recently taken a page from Google and set up “campfire meeting areas.” These innovative workspaces are intended to drive cultural change by encouraging a more fluid work environment and create opportunities for collaboration.

Unfortunately, this type of action is not sufficient to drive cultural change. Although common work areas and “pods” can be helpful, the FBI may be doomed to fail without a strong foundation. They’ve put the “cart before the horse.”

Any program designed to change an organization’s culture must be based on an understanding that culture is made up of the collective behavior of an organization’s individual members and the process used to get work done.

Organizations that are effective at achieving cultural change ensure 3 critical elements are in place.

Define the Ideal Future State

Clarifying or reaffirming the mission and vision is the place to start. It is also important that this picture of the future is shared by employees at all levels of the organization. With this target in mind, you can now ask, “What are the behaviors and competencies that will ensure we achieve this outcome?”

Shape Behavior

Once the behaviors that support the desired culture have been identified, communicating expectations is an important next step but it is not sufficient. The old behaviors must be replaced with the new. The primary responsibility of facilitating change in behavior is the managers and to help “shape behavior” managers have 3 tools to draw on.

• Coaching and feedback – people need to know when they are on track and what areas need improvement. They are also likely to need guidance to help transition to the new behaviors.

• Recognition and rewards – help reinforce positive behavior change. It helps sent the message, “That’s what good looks like” and “You can do it.”

• Consequences – just as there needs to be rewards to reinforce using the new behaviors there also need to be consequences to discourage the use of old behaviors.

Review and Adjust Systems and Work Processes

Systems and work processes ensures the use of new behaviors gets to “critical mass.” They outline how people should work with internal and external stakeholders – they provide guidelines in which the new behaviors are applied. In this way they institutionalize the behavior and ensure the change moves beyond a few individuals scattered around the organization.

Two key systems at the manager’s disposal are the Performance Management system – which is the primary vehicle to communicate expectations and provide rewards and consequences for current employees – and the Selection and Hiring system – which, by using the new behaviors as context, increases the likelihood new employees will a good fit with the new culture.

Many leaders find the term culture vague and difficult to get their arms around. And this is at the center of the problem – if you can’t name it you can’t get it. Understanding that an organization’s culture is known by observing the behavior of its employees and the processes used to get work done provides leaders with a concrete place to start the work of driving culture change.

Buying Software Solutions Means Adapting Business Processes

CRM, SCM, FAS, ESS, ECM and BPA are just a few of the endless stream of acronyms and buzzwords that confront small business owners searching for good software solutions to automate key business functions. The promises of many cloud-based software solutions to automate key functions of a business are impressive. The ability of the technology sales rep to speak an entirely different language using English words injected with acronyms, jargon and unique expressions is equally impressive.

This creates an air of superiority as apparently only special people can know all of this stuff and make any meaning from it in business terms. Many small businesses readily adopt these solutions, believing they will accrue the compelling list of benefits.

The challenges for the business owner go far beyond learning an entirely new befuddling language. More importantly, they must learn to adapt their business processes, people, policies, practices and all of the information and work that must flow through the business functions served by this software. Ironically, many very large businesses cite this failure to execute this adaptation process as the reason many such systems fail to meet their expectations. This despite the hordes of information technology resources and business consultants applied to manage the process.

Small business don’t have access to the same array of experts to help them manage the transition. Instead, they tend to rely more heavily on the supplier of the software solution. Unfortunately, most of these software suppliers do not provide services to help their customers redefine their business processes and work flows. The software supplier is focused on installing the product, providing training on the best practices in the usage of the product, providing basic technical support for the software and then moving on to the next prospect.

After a short period, the frustration mounts as the existing processes and work practices of employees in the business clash with the way the software operates by design. Attempts to adapt the software to the existing workflow or to develop workarounds to seemingly inappropriate or missing functionality invariably produce more frustration. All the while, the business never fully realizes the full benefits of the software as sold by the sales person. The truth is that the business never fully adopts the software so the benefits will only match the degree of its utilization.

Acquiring the software license and turning on the first user name and password is the easy part. To achieve the real value of this purchase requires an accurate and comprehensive assessment of the actual business processes in place in the business compared with those provided in the software solution is required to determine the work required to implement it successfully. This assessment must include process mapping, change management plan for each process, system and workflow integration, user training, and real-world testing and overall project plan to manage the transition to the new mode of operating. A competent project manager with business operations, business process analysis and software deployment expertise can be an invaluable asset to enabling long-term profitable deployments of software solutions for small businesses.

Why We Tend To Resist Change

We live in a time of globalization and constant technology innovation. The growth in technology rapidly increases our access to information and knowledge. These constant changes result in an ever evolving business environment and a demand for organizations to change and adapt. Although modern organizational changes are more often driven by external forces than internal, change is a wonderful individual and organizational opportunity to innovate, create, and become more efficient and effective. Research shows that organizations that adapt to external changes most quickly will create a competitive advantage for themselves while the companies that are slow to change will be left behind.

While change is an opportunity, anyone who led or participated in an organizational change can attest that the process is not easy. Changing the procedures, technology, and organizational systems is the less challenging part of change management. The most challenging component is changing how people in an organization act and think. Change is uncomfortable and often provokes resistance. It is our natural tendency to cling to the known rather than embracing the unknown. So, what’s behind our resistance? Why may we feel so uncomfortable and defensive even though rationally we may grasp the benefits of change?

Based on our personalities and previous experiences, we all may embrace and deal with change differently. We do though have some common tendencies behind resistance to change.

Status quo bias. People have conscious or subconscious tendencies to stick with in the status quo. When faced with a dilemma, we tend to do nothing. And not just individuals and organizations; biological and ecological systems also fight to remain in the status quo. This phenomenon is called homeostasis.

Fear of the unknown. Behind the fear of the unknown lurks the fear of not meeting basic needs. If we recall Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we will remember that our physiological and then safety needs are at the bottom on the pyramid. So, it is natural that during an organizational change, we become fearful of our jobs and the pay level. Will I have a job and be able to bring food to the table? Will I have enough income to pay rent and provide safety to myself and the family? So the fear of the unknown drives us to resist change.

Sometimes, the current, “the known” situation may cause us a distress and dissatisfaction, but we still may feel more comfortable with what we know. Even when we rationally understand the potential change is positive and promising, we may resist it, because on emotional level “the unknown” is anxiety provoking. The old proverb sums it up: “The devil that I know is better than the devil that I do not know”.

Loss of control. This is another key reason why we resist change. Familiar routines help employees develop a sense of control over their work environment. Being asked to change the way they operate may make employees feel powerless and confused. Even changes in daily procedures or desk location may evoke a feeling of loss of control for employees. Overall, people are more likely to understand and embrace changes when they feel they have some form of control.

Concerns about competence. Sometimes, change in organizations necessitates changes in skills. Some people may perceive that they do not have skills to make a transition, and doubt of their capacities to learn those new skills. Therefore, they resist change as a survival strategy, either openly or passively. Some employees may have intellectual and physical capacities to learn new skills, but may express an unwillingness to do so.

Concerns of greater workload. We may also have a legitimate concern of more work to do that come with new tasks or new positions. Especially, when change includes restructuring, mergers, or acquisitions, employees may be anxious of “doing more with less”, that is performing more than one job with the same or even lesser resources.

Resistance is an emotional process. Behind the resistance are the feelings. In our next blog we will discuss the strategies to embracing change, however it is important to remember that as leaders we cannot tell people stop feeling what they feel. On the contrary, fighting resistance directly will just bring in more resistance. As employees and participants in the change process, we also cannot talk ourselves out of our feelings overnight. Rather we can accept the feelings that we experience and then we can work with ourselves and with others to embrace change.

7 Secrets of Successful Change Management

How would you grade your organization’s effectiveness at managing change?

Chances are, there is room for improvement. Of the 655 leaders we surveyed, just 46 percent said their organization was successful at change management. About a third also noted their companies had a poor track record of managing change.

We wanted to find out what it takes to succeed in this area and what differentiates companies that do this well. Here are seven best practices we uncovered.

1. Having Clarity of Purpose and Objectives

Before leaders can get employees to buy into the change, the leaders themselves must have a clear understanding of what they need to achieve, why it’s necessary and how they will measure success.

2. Having Leaders at All Levels Who Are Effective Change Managers

The effectiveness of top leadership was a defining characteristic among the highest-performing organizations we surveyed, but it’s not enough for a few senior leaders to have the ability to manage change well.

Leaders at all levels, especially those responsible for carrying out most of the specific tasks related to change, must be able to prepare their teams for what’s ahead and be able to steer them in the right direction when they encounter obstacles. They must have the qualities that are critical to strategy execution, including:

– Action Orientation – The ability to take quick, practical actions to correct something.
– Problem Solving – The ability to find the cause of and solution to a complex issue.
– Decision Making – The ability to weigh the pros and cons of situations and take the best action possible.
– Results Orientation – An understanding of what results are most important to the strategy and the ability to focus on achieving them
– Leading Cross-Functional Teams – The ability to influence others when they don’t have established authority.

3. Allocating Adequate Resources

All too often, we see new initiatives fail because no one bothered to ensure they had proper funding and staff dedicated to ensuring they could flourish. Leaders are reluctant to shift resources away from existing programs so they simply add new ones. With so many other programs competing for employees’ time and attention, something has to give-and usually, it’s the new initiative.

4. Communicating a Clear and Appealing Vision

Imagine you and your leaders are on the campaign trail, and your employees are candidates who are still undecided about their support. What is the big, inspiring story that will motivate them to back your position? What’s in it for them? The best leaders can explain this simply in a way that evokes emotion.

5. Maintaining Momentum and Enthusiasm

Employees may agree with your vision initially, but they’re likely to become frustrated or disillusioned along the way, especially if they don’t see immediate progress. Find ways to keep the conversation going through short town hall information sessions, surveys and casual conversation. Ask them for their honest feedback often, and be willing to listen. Be honest about what you don’t know, and commit to updating employees when those details are finalized.

6. Anticipating and Addressing Obstacles to Implementation

Problems are inevitable, but the best leaders have the ability to foresee potential issues and take proactive steps to prevent them. In the planning stages, set aside time for your team to discuss concerns and identify as many issues as possible. Then, outline preventive measures and contingency plans.

7. Aligning the Performance Management System

Once you’ve implemented a new initiative, make sure you have method in place to clarify expectations, reinforce new behaviors, and evaluate employees based on the new objectives. Otherwise they will have no incentive to work toward those goals. Periodic and annual performance reviews and quarterly goals need to reflect the changes your organization has made.

Managing change well is an ongoing effort that requires a commitment from leaders at all levels, buy-in from employees and attention to detail to make sure all elements work well together. OnPoint Consulting is an organizational consulting firm that helps companies manage change initiatives and improve strategy execution through a combination of assessments and leadership development.