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Lighting the spark

Recently reviewing the progress of the early months of a culture change with colleagues we took stock of whether things were going to plan or not. We started with completed activity versus the plan and then reviewed the declared progress measures, comparing reality to the aspirations at that time. All the normal things you would expect after a couple of months change activity I.e are we doing what we said? and getting the results that we expected? All the tangible things that we do in implementing change. But our experience told us that this was not enough.

We then looked at the less measurable and tangible to discuss whether there was life in the culture change yet. We knew from past experience that culture change is like starting a fire by rubbing two sticks together; you work hard to get the flame started and harder still to keep it ignited.bIn looking for evidence of the flame being lit you are looking beyond the activity measures that are all you can set in the early days of change (it takes a while to get your ultimate measures measurable when it comes to culture). You are looking for signs of life.

So what did we look for?

A) are people talking about the initiative? Are there any good news stories or any shared memories being created and passed around? On such stories are the virus of culture change caught.
B) is there any voluntary (non mandated) engagement? Are people using the support systems, forums, discussion groups, coaching etc that is available to them as the practice the new skills needed as part of the initiative? If people are trying things they will have questions or clarifications aplenty and lots of thoughts to share. If these are few and far between or few people aren’t turning up for open sessions then it is safe to assume things are not being tried (if it’s the same people asking questions then it shows that some are engaged and some aren’t)
C) do management have their pulse on the action? Any change requires attention from management who should be asking questions, answering questions, promoting the new things, stopping old habits, identifying signs of resistence, and watching for the spark to be lit. There are always things to deal with, if management are paying attention to them. Is there a steering group and if so do they have anything to steer and are they even meeting? Or is business as usual winning?

These are just three of the signs of life we looked for because without these we know that the next stage of embedding activities will have no spark to ignite them.

So when managing change keep an eye on the vital signs of a spark of life before you assume your activities are working

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