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Three building blocks of sustaining culture change

Shifting a culture is time consuming. Coming up with new ideas or new ways to behave –  is the easy part. Too many times, shiny new ideas become the “flavor of the month” or worse, over time turn into “pencil whipping” exercises.

So how do you ensure that behaviors are changing? How do you instill new habits? How do you ensure the change is sustainable and part of the team DNA? I propose there are at least three fundamental building blocks to setting the right tone and tenor for culture change:

Building Block 1

  • Maintain consistency in words and actions.

I had a boss in a meeting who said to a co-worker, “Your actions are speaking so loud, I can’t hear what you’re saying.” It made an impression on me that there needs to be a consistency between our words and our actions. They are inextricably linked.

Kinetic energy is a good example of how consistency works. In physics, the kinetic energy of an object is the energy that it possesses due to its motion. It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes.¹ 

In your workplace – what’s your kinetic consistency energy (KCE)  between your words and your actions? Have you moved the body from a rest state into a stated velocity? Think about your approach.

Building Block 2

  • Create actions that are sustainable.

Thinking of actions is the easy part. I would be willing to bet we’ve all been in blue sky brainstorming sessions where the team white boards a really creative approach to solving a problem. But when that very idea is put to work it causes an unintended consequence which no one saw coming.

The next time you and your team are investigating a new way to do something – take the time to also think through what they could look like in a year’s time. Vet the sustainability of the action being used to drive cultural shifts.

Building Block 3

  • Assess if the actions are driving the culture shift you are wanting.

There are two types of evaluation, summative and formative. Summative evaluation focuses on the outcome of a program whereas Formative evaluation focuses on the in-process at a particular moment in time. Both are needed if you are really looking to change culture.

One caveat to evaluation is the willingness to change based on new data. Your initial plans may need adjusting or maybe, heaven forbid, even scrapped. Are you willing to go where the data tells you to go? Sometimes this is harder than you’ll ever imagine. Don’t start culture change unless you are willing to have some level of flexibility in the plan/vision.

Cultural changes are made up of attitude changes. If it was just a list of “go dos”, cultural changes would be easy. Driving change into a team’s DNA takes time and consistency. Start the journey – just realize it is a journey.

Be intentional


Finding your circle’s touch points


Feeling blue?

When an organization undertakes a “redo”, finding your spot in the new organization is similar to starting a new job. You learn what your tasks are to create the outputs you are accountable for. You soon find the circle (some would argue “circus”) that defines your day, your goals and your contribution to the organization.

Eventually, you learn how your circle affects other circles and those circles touch other circles, and so on. You also learn you’ll have to overlap with some people or teams to ensure everything that needs to be done gets done. For example, someone in your organization is formally responsible for continuous improvement but that doesn’t mean everyone else is absolved of responsibility for driving continuous improvement. Your circle overlaps with the continuous improvement person’s because everyone is responsible for continuous improvement.

If you only do your own “circle” and not take into account how it interacts and overlaps with your surrounding “circles” means:

  1. Some things will not get done. It is inevitable. Throwing “it” over the wall isn’t the same as overlapping. All it means is your desk is clean but your co-worker is cleaning up your mess. You’re better than that. “Know before you throw.”
  2. The organization becomes weaker. A chain is a series of interlinked circles. Unlinking them means your organization will have much weaker pulling power the next time you run into a “tree-stump of a problem”
  3. There will be a communication blackout. Like a brownout that runs through a city, some blocks will have lights while other neighborhoods will be plunged into darkness. Instead, why not maintain your circles and make sure there aren’t any gaps in them? Interaction promotes understanding. It ensures you know why your customer needs something, not just what they need.

Overlap is a catalyst to change. It creates an environment to share. It invites people to be curious and ask questions that could get you thinking about something you have never thought about. It promotes continuous improvement.

If you find yourself saying “that’s not my job”, ask yourself if you are leaving a gap.  When establishing roles in a new organizational structure, it may not be your job, however if you see a hole it is your responsibility to the team to find a way to fill it.

Be intentional,

Change can be more than what’s loose and in your pocket

Change is something that most people do not like, or at least they say they don’t. Or as my husband is fond of saying, “I like change, as long as it is loose and in my pocket.” Yet for all the unknowns change brings, I happen to like change.

Change comes in many forms like trying a new restaurant, trying something new from the menu, exploring a new location, or even doing something I have never done before. However, change can be disconcerting because you do not know what the outcome will be. You may not like the food you try, you may get lost in a new area, and you may fail at the (new) task you try.

I know you’ve heard this said at least a million times, “But we’ve always done it this way.” And there are certain things that should adhere to “doing it like we did before” – I can’t imagine the folks in accounting walking in one day and saying, yup, we didn’t feel like doing the year-end reporting like before so we tried something new…

Change opens up uncertainty, the possibility of failure, and will increase your stress but without it, you never discover new things or develop and improve. When companies and organizations go through the journey of change, it takes the whole team coming together to make the change journey successful.

Here are a few key things that a healthy team can do to embrace change… and it’s really some of the “same old things” such as:

  • Communicate. Share what you know, when you know it.
  • Ensure you “bubble up” questions, seek answers and take time to listen.
  • Follow the change through to the end. (Since it’s almost football season, here’s an analogy – don’t get to the one yard line and say you’re done, get into the end zone and then say it’s done).
  • Support each other through the stress. Some days you will be stressed, other days your teammates will be. Help each other through the stress.
  • Keep focused on the journey. When you have a bad day, when you feel you have taken a step backwards – brush it off and tackle the new day with a fresh outlook.

Be intentional

Stress: When Vision and Reality Collide

Recently a friend shared something they learned in a management class:

Stress is created by the gap between vision and reality.
To reduce stress, change the vision or change the reality.
One or the other must change*.

It is really quite a simple idea, though many struggle with it. I don’t think people struggle with understanding that the gap causes stress – I believe they struggle with the idea of having to “change” what they want or with how best to change their reality. My husband says that the only change he likes is if it’s loose and in his pockets.

Should you change your vision?

Your vision of what reality should be may be right or it may be wrong. Only you can decide that. This concept does not judge or challenge the vision. It may be your dream, it may be your understanding of how things should be, or it may be what those around you are defining as the vision. This question only asks if the vision needs to be adjusted.

Assess the vision. Take a hard look and decide if you need to change it.

Should you change your reality?

Instead of griping about the situation – change it. A former Program Manager I knew used to say; “Own what’s yours.” What do you need to do to change your reality to align with your vision? Things like training, organization, better communication, and clarification all can change a reality.

Assess the reality. What is necessary for you to do to obtain the vision.

As leaders, we must clearly communicate a vision, and provide the things necessary for the reality to align to the vision. If your team seems stressed, ask yourself if it is their vision or reality that needs adjusting. Better yet, ask your team. They’re smart people. They’ll know.

Disclaimer: We all know there is both good stress and bad stress. To obtain world class quality it is necessary to embrace a vision that reality has not yet quite achieved AND the stress of getting there is not bad. It drives continuous improvement. It is only when we are either defeated or apathetic that good stress turns into bad stress.

Remember, the first step in making any change is recognizing what needs to change. So either change your vision or change your reality. Pick. Act. De-stress.

Be intentional,

*Paraphrased quote from Gustav Kaeser Training International management training

Can You Name the Four Invisible Culture Influencers?

800lb communication gorilla

Can you identify the “800 pound gorilla” in your meeting nobody will discuss? (Maybe a simple banana will make it go away?)

Last week we talked about culture – and how we all are contributors to the culture we live in. How we contribute is influenced by the infrastructure we operate within.

Using the example of meeting structure, we looked at how the culture of safety was influenced. Some other things that could/do influence culture would be: communication tools, problem solving space, reporting / governance. Anything that influences our interactions with each other plays a part in our infrastructure. If you can identify key components, cultural shifts can be sparked by some basic simple changes. The hard part is tuning into what those things could be.

Of all the possible influencers, there are four invisible influencers on culture that I would like to explore over the next couple of weeks:

  • Meeting structures
  • Electronic communication
  • Questions
  • Bad news

I use the word “invisible” because they are usually ignored just like the proverbial “800 pound gorilla in the room”. They shape the interactions we have, and by shaping them they can either add or subtract from the culture. Most of the time, people put little thought into these interactions. We must understand why we do stuff and be intentional in what we do.

Over the next week please think about the following questions:

  • Why do we say we “have too many meetings?”
  • How come no one ever says, “I can’t wait for that meeting. I’m stoked. I want to get there early. Giddy-up.”
  • Do we understand why we have been invited to a meeting?
  • Do we go to meetings with expectations? Does the meeting organizer know our expectation? Do we know the meeting organizer’s expectation?
  • Meetings can be informational, discussion based, informal working meetings… Which kind of meetings do you think you have too many of?
  • How many meetings do you schedule vs attend?
  • If not in meetings, where do you think communication is taking place, or should take place?

I am going to be seeking some informal feedback over the next week. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Be intentional