When it comes to kicking off culture change I look for opportunities rather than the ‘perfect’ starting point. I don’t look at them as low hanging fruit (most change guidance would tell you to go for these and get some ‘quick runs on the board’). I look for a) the activity that shows the largest number of people that something is changing and b) an opportunity that opens the door for other aspects of culture we want to change. I take this approach because changing culture is about moving people towards a tipping point of belief. The tipping point is where enough people believe in your culture to start engaging and participating in it. To build towards the tipping point most people need to see something solid, practical and real. Just telling them your new values or vision is not enough. People need to see it in action
Take ‘Empowerment’. It’s a great company value that is cropping up more and more in organisations. The thing is, you don’t start the creation of an empowering culture by just empowering everybody overnight. It’s highly likely that the reason that you’ve decided to change the culture to one that is empowered is because they currently aren’t. And if they aren’t then you’ve taken years training them not to be by your actions. So just saying ‘you are now empowered!’ won’t work as they don’t know how to be. It’s a gradual process. And being empowered is a hard thing to see, touch and feel on its own. So you need activities that build empowerment.
The question is always ‘where do you start?’
This is why I often look for other aspects of change that may help to show what empowerment, in this case, looks like. Are you also working on innovation as a value or improving your safety culture? Are you implementing a KPI culture or a ‘culture of accountability’? Are you going through process improvement? All of these may provide opportunities to empower people in ways that they can begin to recognise. I like to ask ‘What activities could you put in place around, safety or innovation or process improvement etc that would involve empowerment in a nice, safe, non threatening way?’
So as an example let’s choose safety. If you decide to get more people involved in safety by increasing participation in safety audits then you are implementing a real and physical activity that will result in a change in safety culture. If as a result of that initiative someone does a review of safety in their own work-space, they may say ‘if we changed that thing it would be safer to do my job”. You could could happily tick the safety audit box and be happy. But could you do more with it. Could you get two for the price of one?
You could do what many organisations do and say ‘fill in the audit form and send to the safety team and they will look at it’ (often meaning as much as saying ‘thanks, and just put that idea straight in the trash’) or you could say ‘that’s great, why don’t you do that then, here is the money to go buy that thing’. The more you do that the more people will understand empowerment and the more likely the empowerment culture is to grow in reality. So you’ve used one activity to create opportunities for another activity. And if the idea they come up with is ‘innovative’ then you are building that initiative too.
So look for each initiative to leverage another initiative and get two (or maybe three) for the price of one.