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.