In the Southern hemisphere we are fast approaching the Christmas holidays. The season began in earnest a few weeks ago with that rush towards self imposed year end deadlines and tired people making mistakes by rushing to get things done.
When we hit the holidays proper it spells a period of just over a month before things get back to normal. With extended holidays due to the summer weather kick in, it often takes till February before everyone is back on the job and organisations are back to full strength.
So what does that mean for your culture change? If you kicked one off this year you will know that it takes a good 18 months of the various pieces of change effort before it delivers, so it means that, for many, this is a period where ‘not a lot happens’ on the change front. But should it be a ‘change dead zone’? Here are a couple of thoughts that can make this holiday season a positive one for your change.
Its not a good time to start a new phase of your change, introducing a new topic or focusing on anything intently, because fundamentally nobody is going to pay attention. Year-end-itus has kicked in and getting people to focus on the day job is hard enough never mind a critical new stage of your change. However this is the season of celebration and reflection generally and that makes it a good time to reflect on what has happened so far. Its a good period to celebrate the successes achieved to date, to reward people for their change related efforts and to communicate to everyone the good points of the change so far. It doesn’t take much effort to do this if you have been recognising success through the year, recapping on the plan as you go along, and communicating regularly. All you really have to do is get people together in a forum where the change can be celebrated, at a time when celebrating seems to be a good idea anyway.
This is the right time to get the plan right for the start of the year. Many people let the ball drop, wait till everyone gets back (we all need to be in the meetings to agree things, right?) and then start putting the plans in place for the next steps and stages. As nothing much can happen in January then you don’t start organising things till February and before you know it, its March and your change has hibernated for roughly three months. And unlike a Bear its not going to come out all rested and ready to go. Its lost its momentum and people will have forgotten its there. So now is the time to work out the actions for January and February. To get dates set. To get things ordered ready for delivery. To write what needs written. And when you do plan for a staged build up by using January as a ‘whats coming next?’ communication phase with smaller engagements on the way to the next big launch in February. The secret with culture change is to make sure something is happening regularly, even if there are not many people around, so keep things happening. Plan and organise now.
So two tips to make sure you get the most from those last few weeks of the working year by keeping change in season.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all you needed to do to bring about culture change, was to get everyone in a room and we all agree that something has to change, then everyone leaves and just gets on with it.
Tried that, doesn’t work.
OK, then how about getting everyone involved in writing the company values, so that they adopt them because they created them?
Tried that, won’t work
Maybe we should change everyone’s job description to match the intention of the culture we need?
Tried that, won’t work.
How about we get rid of people that don’t fit in, leaving behind only those that have the attitude we need?
Tried that won’t work.
Lets announce the values that management have defined and have an event to celebrate them with a month of activity?
Tried that, won’t work.
We redefine the process that everyone uses, change any associated software and that will ultimately change people’s attitudes?
Tried that, won’t work.
We need to define clear competencies and map everyone against that perfect model!
Forced to try that, knew it wouldn’t work.
It must be all about reward, so we connect people’s pay and bonuses to the behaviours that we need?
Tried that, won’t work.
Right, lets give everyone a personal objective associated with the values so they are working to make them real?
Tried that, won’t work
How about we send all the leaders to a two day training programme and give them the latest in leadership theory so they implement it and that will change the attitudes of those around them.
Tried that, won’t work.
So if none of those work, then how do you bring about culture change?
The answer is that none of these work on their own. The silver bullet approach just does not deliver a change of culture. True culture change is only likely if most of these are implemented in a cohesive programme across 18months to two years.
To change culture you need to engage everyone in why it needs to change. You need to involve them in what the improved culture will look like and what it will take to get there. Then you need to make it easy to be part of that culture, so you remove your processes that enforce the old style, change associated software, rewrite job descriptions, update your reward system so that you stop rewarding old behaviours and reward the new. You need to get everyone involved somehow, so you endeavor to give people an objective that is part of changing the culture or involve them in planned activity that involves them in doing things the new way. You will need to help some people get off the bus if they don’t want to be on it any more, as you can’t afford to have people staying to force the culture back the way it was. And your leaders do need to change their style to align it to the new approach. You may not achieve this by sending them to hear the latest theory though as the theory has to be totally aligned to your needs (knowing more theory wont make them better leaders). You probably need to get more specific and personal about their needs.
The key is, If your intent is to change culture then you need to match it with the intensity of your activity.
‘Every organisation around the world is dependent on the talent that chooses to join it’
I said that to someone recently and they blinked and paused before we could continue. The reason was that their mindset was one of recruiting talent that met their needs and ‘letting it go’ when it didn’t. This mindset is prevalent around the world despite all the good words that come out in company values statements (I wish I had a $ for every ‘People are our biggest asset’)
A lot of time is spent on recruiting people to do specific roles and trying to match people to jobs that need done. People are selected and promoted base on many different criteria as each company tried out its own methodology to match person to post. We try and pin down the right person to the right role as a set of prioritised facts.
Yet companies change frequently, roles shift and move with the changes in the business environment. Structures change with new leaders and the demands on managers vary by every change in objectives. Ask any change agent and they will tell you that many of the people ‘restructured’ out of a business were once seen as performers or were recruited as ‘top talent’ or even head-hunted for a role.
They still have the skills and experiences that they came with (and should have added more). They still know what they did when you rated them. They can still do what you asked them to do when they arrived. So what has changed?
It’s a truism that we hire on skills and fire on attitude, but what is widely known but rarely talked about is that attitudes can be moulded by the company and the leader someone works for. Bright eyed talent with passion and enthusiasm can leave as jaundiced and jaded run of the mill employees. Sometimes it can be changes in their life outside of work but often it is the organisational environment that does it.
While talent is seen as an something that is bought and used and then thrown away, or as an asset just like those on your balance sheets (and remember you depreciate those) then there will always be ‘churn’ and ‘turnover’ within your business.
Look at it this way. You don’t need an engagement survey to know the level of commitment in your important relationships do you? You don’t need told that you need to invest in them either?
Perhaps considering your ‘talent’ as people that chose you and your business as much as you chose them would lead to a mindset of a mutually beneficial relationship. It may change who you recruit in the first place and why you recruit them (want to live with someone you fall out with all the time?) And a shift to that paradigm might change everything in your organisation quicker than any restructuring.
My blogs are normally around 500 words long and I write monthly. Between blogs I observe change and leadership and some of that floats into my blogs or my tweets. But there is a big gap between 30 words and 500 words. A twitter follower recently told me that he likes to read people who share little thoughts which can be easily digested. So I’ve decided that I’m going to experiment with short thoughts between the twitter and traditional blog. I can’t call them micro-blogs as that phrase has been coined and no doubt someone would tell me that what I was doing wasn’t one. So until I’ve got a good name for them I’m calling mine twogs: more than a tweet and less than a blog. Heres the first
The Cult of the CEO
Have you noticed how often a CEO is lauded in public for what they have done, or are recorded in the media as launching ‘their strategy’ or ‘their vision’? Have you seen articles that suggest that a CEO appointment to an ailing company is akin to the arrival of a saviour? Have you noticed more and more ‘CEO of the year’ and ‘top 10 CEO’ articles? Are we seeing a view that the CEO is the sole strategist, single point leader, the holder of all authority and perhaps wisdom to be venerated? is this a media view in a world that needs copy built around personality (talent shows & Reality Tv, Presidential campaigns)? Or is this a reality in the world? is the CEO role all powerful? or are we driving it to be so? Does that worry you? It does me!
Between the 12th and 15th Centuries the Feudal system was the dominant form of social structure in Europe. Feudalism relied on an idea that a lord or baron had power over the people within their domain. Their word was quite literally the law.
You might ask ‘where is he going with this?, we threw off the shackles of the Feudal system centuries ago’.
Indeed we did, Feudalism died out as other philosophies of social structure came into being and over the years since, more of us began to live under systems that espoused, protected and advocated our freedom as individuals.
And yet, all around the western world, we get up on a Monday, go to work and willingly put on the structures and behaviours that a 10th century baron would recognise.
Every day people are unwilling to question their manager, challenge that managers reasoning or decisions, and even in some cases putting up with behaviour from their manager that is domineering at best. People can treat CEO’s with the kind of deference that a Frankish lord would expect of those around him (indeed we even have magazines that laud praises on CEO’s of major corporates). People can turn off their intellect, experience and capability because someone ‘on a higher pay grade’ expresses an opinion.
Yet, when you ask many modern leaders whether this is what they expect or want from people, they would say that they want openness, honesty, challenge, discussion and advice and insight from the people around them. The shackles are often self imposed.
As a leader and as you get promoted up the ladder, you will get used to making a lot of correct decisions. Thats why you get promoted. You will get used to people agreeing with you because you are right or showed some insight that no-one else saw. You can get used to the idea of people asking for your view or your opinion. But when does that sway to ‘hierarchical deference’ or ‘positional power’?. Is there a possibility that at some point, your voice is listened to ‘just because you are the boss’?(and if you are reading this and thinking that this is only right and proper you may want to get in a time machine and go back to the 12th century!).
If you truly want to be the kind of leader who has open conversations, can be challenged, and gets the most out of other peoples knowledge you may have to set a few things in place to make that happen.
Who speaks first: CEO’s, Chairmen, GM’s who speak first on every point in a meeting may find that they are setting up a situation where people have to ‘disagree with the boss’. Hold your peace and encourage others to express their view first.
Sudden silence: When you say something, watch for peoples expressions or reactions. If they close down or look away then it may be possible that they don’t actually agree with you even if they are nodding.
Routine agreement:If you find that people agree with you more often than not then you might want to check whether they are agreeing with what was said or who said it. Try saying something you don’t actually believe in and see what response you get.
Establishing conditions: When you are throwing ideas out, let people know that is what you are doing. When you do decide that want something done a certain way, then make it clear that this actually is a decision that you are taking that is not up for debate, so that people understand the difference.
Rewarding the brave: Do you recognise when someone has has questioned your view at a meeting? Or do people have to sidle up to you and whisper their concerns? Do you reward the ‘deviant view’ the questioner and the one who actually does what you ask people to do? If not, why not?
Being a leader is full of challenges. Being the leader you say you want to be is even harder. To be a 21st leader may require you to help your people throw off the mental shackles of the last 900 years!
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