Are You Using These 2 Factors To Align Organizational Culture?

Last week’s blog post on the 7 Step Organization Culture Checklist created a lot of stir in our faithful readers. If you happened to miss it, you can click here to give it a read before you finish this post.

I received several emails from folks who had some very interesting stories about how the organization they work in has a clear mission and vision, but then there is a seemingly huge gap in how leaders behave. This misalignment puts followers in a quandary. 

They say things like, “We are supposed to be delegating more and taking bureaucracy and senseless meetings out of our work flow. One expectation is that we are to have fewer group meetings. ‘You don’t need to collaborate on everything' is the mantra. Yet what is occurring is that the number of individual meetings I now have with people affected by my work has tripled. We still need to talk with everyone affected by our work, but now instead of getting a group together to do it once, we have three separate meetings with individuals. Then, if the last person I talk with doesn’t agree, I now have six meetings instead of one.”

This is an example of how the guiding principles, those objective structures that guide behavior, can be misaligned when culture is shifting.

Regarding the above example, the previous expectation was collaboration, so the behavior was to get everyone together and decide. The culture shift is toward speed and innovation, resulting in fewer meetings. However, enough of the old culture is still present that people continue feeling the need to collaborate, and change becomes hard. Lack of clarity and surprise are the worst things in a collaborative culture. What an innovative culture needs is speed, so not everyone can know everything.  


2 Factors to Align Organizational Culture

It is not that people do not want to embrace and change to a new way of doing things. More often than not, they really do. But, as creatures of habit, we all know how hard this is.

If you are a leader or have been with an organization for any significant period of time, you have been successful and rewarded for doing things the old way. Your brain, at a neurochemical level, has fallen in love with all the positive endorphins you received doing things the old way.

Enter change.

At the highest level it will start with a new vision and mission for the organization. My experience is that most people get the high level mantra’s, even if only intellectually. “We are customer centric,” “We bring innovation to our marketplace,” “A world without Alzheimers Disease.”

Captivating, aren’t they? Who doesn’t want a world without disease? What a great mission to be on and vision to set. 

Frankly, thats the easy part.

The hard part is understanding how you make this a reality at the behavioral level for everyone in the organization. This is where things like having fewer meetings comes in. While it is a good idea, it does not honor the old culture, nor does it really address the behavior being asked for by the new culture.

Here are two strategies for you to consider as you drive organizational change:

  1. Incorporate “I will” statements.  

    This blog generally hits people’s inbox on Monday mornings at 6am. I am usually in the office between 8 and 9 to start my day. Last week on Monday, my phone rang at 11:15am. It was an old friend who I had worked with many years ago. He was fired up about the culture post and couldn’t wait to share with me his best tip for assessing and supporting culture change. The idea is simple, but the impact is profound. He relayed to me that in his role he had observed many different shifts in culture over the years. The best strategy he found was to ask people to articulate what they see themselves doing as a result of the change.  He called them “I will” statements. For example, a midlevel manger would say to followers, “I will support you if you get negative backlash for moving forward without checking with all the people you used to check with.”  These “I will” statements are powerful indicators to ensure that everyone in the organization aligns with the new behaviors.  Leaders have to get really good at listening to make sure the I will fits the behavior that supports the new culture. Thanks, Gerry, for the tip!

  2. Believe in the person you are coaching.  

    Leaders have to realize that most changes we ask people to make take some degree of time to implement. It is not easy to go from being collaborative one day to speedy and innovative the next. A recent article in the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research really brought home the criticality around the idea of the impact of positive communication practices in coaching. Psychologists call it self-efficacy. The idea is that a person’s beliefs shape how they behave. It doesn’t matter if they are optimistic or pessimistic. High belief in self translates to greater confidence and enabling a person to completely devote themselves to the change. Some researchers believe that high belief in self is the golden ticket to performance. The higher the self-confidence in a given skill, the more effective the person will be.  I happen to think there are other factors that balance self-confidence, such as empathy, but for the most part if a person doesn’t believe they can change, then they likely will not.  Enter coaching, which means having frequent interactions with the person who is in a change process and supporting and believing in them all along. This doesn’t mean they won’t stumble or make mistakes, but it does let them know that as their coach you have their back and that you support them. Who doesn’t want that?

If you have other ideas on this, I would love to hear from you. Send me an email, or better yet, give me a cal - I would love to chat.