Change is inevitable, when faced with implementing change, what strategies should you use and how can you change your corporate culture to handle change more easily?
As forward thinking and strategically savvy as the leadership in an organization may be, when it comes to implementing change, some level of resistance must be anticipated. This is supported by statistics that show about one third of corporate initiatives are successful. Even when the need for change is recognized and goal of the initiative is clear, people naturally avoid the uncertainty that transformation brings. The costs associated with failure can be high – not only financially, but also psychologically. Leaders need to recognize and plan for this inevitability. They are not without a tool that can that can be used to support long-term change. Building and maintaining a culture that values and promotes change is in fact one of the most underutilized advantages leaders have.
Culture can be interpreted in a number of ways, but most commonly it is defined as a specific worldview that results from a set of commonly held values, beliefs, and norms. Culture can be explicit or implicit, but in either case it drives the behaviors of the group. When new or inconsistent behaviors are required in an otherwise “status quo” environment and those behaviors are not supported by the current cultural system, resistance to change is the outcome.
Understanding an organization’s unique culture is a first step in determining how to shape change. However, the assumption that leaders must change the way that people think before they can change their behavior is a misnomer. While awareness and education can change how people think, this approach takes a great deal of time and the effort doesn’t guarantee a long-term change in behavior. In fact, it is actually easier to change behaviors first with the intention of “pulling” the culture in the direction more consistent with the desired change. Once those behaviors are put in place and reinforced a new set of supporting values, beliefs, and norms (i.e., culture) results.
Leaders interested in managing change using this approach should focus on using communication to instill the behaviors that can lead to cultural change. Consider taking the following steps:
- Clearly define the behaviors that will lead to the desired change and translate them into processes that are specific and concrete enough to be meaningful to the audience. While it is important for people to understand the overall goals of a change initiative, leaders cannot simply ask people to change without a strategy that outlines the day-to-day impact the new behaviors have on the way they perform their jobs.
- Clarify the costs and benefits of the change so that people understand the need for change. Provide specific examples. People are more likely to buy-in to the change when they understand how it impacts them directly and fits into the bigger picture.
- Lead by example. Change comes from the top and employees look to their leaders to guide the cause. Modeling behavior not only has a positive psychological impact on people, but also opens the opportunity for dialogue that can reinforce the desired behaviors.
- Create metrics and a performance system that align with the desired change and build accountability into the new system. Often the behaviors that leaders look to change are not supported by existing reward systems. In addition, people are not easily moved out of their comfort zone without good reason and clear consequences.
- Finally, leaders must continually provide people with the skills and support to maintain change. New behaviors are best reinforced with feedback and coaching. Cultural change is more easily achieved when people are reminded of what they are doing well and how their behaviors reflect the overall values, beliefs, and norms of the organization.
Change is an ongoing part of an organization’s evolution. As such, finding a strategy that minimizes uncertainty and perceived risk can increase the success of the change process. Successfully meeting the challenges associated with transformation requires adaptive leadership and a clear understanding of the ways in which instilling new behaviors impacts cultural change in the organization.