4 Reasons Change Efforts Don’t Work (and the power of culture building)

Culture builders evolve habits to improve our well-being

Culture builders evolve habits to improve our well-beingAttention Culture Builders!  When do your change efforts signal decline?

We are fundamentally Reinventing Work. It’s about more than employee engagement numbers. Culture builders across the world are the pioneers of a workplace revolution.

Every industry and company is undergoing massive disruptive change. Juggling complexity and new workforce expectations and delivering results.

If you’re not keeping up, you’re declining. And given employees want to work for companies who stand for values and embrace change -as do customers, it’s essential to understand what it means, and what it looks like.

What Reinvention Looks Like

All major societal revolutions have followed a similar pattern. There are at least 8 of them on record since the dawn of writing 4000 years ago, that offer insights into what we are seeing today.

The Digital Era is the biggest disruptive change ever, in scope and scale. Mostly because it is global, permeating every part of the planet and every facet of our lives.

In every disruptive change period, the systems and power centers crumble during the ~50 years it takes to re-organize around the change.  Economic, political, community and family systems are unrecognizable afterwards.  The disruption currently is painful and real: Gallup polls reporting 2/3 of people not engaged at work.  Politics have become a war of egos and disagreement. Divorce rates and the “normalizing” of intense work schedules, are splitting families.  People of all ages are trying to make sense of it in very different ways.

The Queen of All Disruptions is about 30 years old – if history repeats itself, about halfway into the cycle of disintegration and rebuilding.

This disruption is fueling an expansion of unimaginable new ways of thinking and interacting.  Leadership is not about hierarchy and power – it’s about influence and followers. Employee contracts are more fluid. Jobs are being re-defined (some replaced by technology). So are the people who work in them. Cars don’t need drivers. Homes aren’t fixed in one place. Travel to far reaches of the planet is becoming normal and easy. Surgery doesn’t involve a knife. Aging is a fluid concept.

If the leaders at the top of your company still don’t “get it” – they will be forced soon enough. A common phenomenon of all disruptions, is that leaders-in-power grasp harder onto the old ways, and resist inventing new systems.  And yet, changing rules about work and culture is reaching a tipping point very soon – which extends beyond startup cultures and Silicon Valley.

The upheaval is also bringing us back in touch with timeless desires: Tribes. Connection. Community. Fulfillment. Purpose.

New leadership skills are needed.

After our basic survival needs are met, people want the same things we’ve wanted from the beginning: Good friends and a loving family.  Enjoyment of life.  Efforts that feel meaningful.  The workplaces of tomorrow will support more of this than those of the past 50 years – which focused on expansion of corporations to deliver faster, better, cheaper goods everywhere.

Culture builders in companies of all sizes today, know that tomorrow’s workers consider change a given. The collective ability to adapt quickly in this crazy time, really matters.  The clarity and focus derived from viewing change as a capability, not an annual event.

Culture builders must also beware of 4 toxic dynamics that hinder the mastery of change in the modern workplace:

1. Change is Done-TO-Me.

Change management has grown into a legitimate field, one that is gaining maturity. And yet, most change efforts to transform and evolve organizational habits around strategy, structure, and communication are still fraught with difficulty and failure.

Engagement has not shifted much since 2004.

This is largely because change is viewed as a program or event to be “sold” and “managed” – versus tapping into people’s natural drive for change. (People aren’t resistant to change. They’re resistant to BEING changed.)

Most organizational change efforts are about making money or saving money (and controlling the variables that hinder those outcomes). In the focus on monetary gain, we have inadvertently shut-off people’s natural motivations.  In the desire to improve our lives, we have also created more sick, disconnected, disheartened people in almost every civilized society.

I suggest we make a conscious choice to view CHANGE differently.

You probably know the standard reasons change fails:

  • Leaders lack sustained commitment.
    (lack of sponsorship)
  • Organizations get distracted.
    (flavor of the month, corporate ADHD)
  • Change resistance.
    (low employee engagement)

At the root of these reasons, is usually a connection to financial performance. Which IS a very important driving force in business that cannot be eliminated or undone.  But financial results are the natural outcome of an environment that is in touch with improving the lives of its people.  (not confusing the scorecard with the purpose.)

What would happen if we approached change from a different vantage point?

  • Starting bottom-up, versus top-down.
  • Starting by empowering people to make things better in service of clear purpose and mission.
  • Starting by engaging conversations about how everyone can participate in the effort to improve employee’s and customer’s lives – what that can look and feel like.
  • Starting by transforming the work experience, and how organizational change itself is held.

We must disrupt how we DO change:  Leaders of the future need skills for breaking down barriers and increasing inclusion. Engaging more people in conversations about why, what and how. Fostering high performing teamwork.

Life today is far too complex for isolation.

2. Getting the psychology backwards.

People embrace change when they see the benefit personally.

That’s how it is.  (whether or not you like it or believe it.)

Yet, most organizations are structured exactly the opposite: The people doing most of the work, gain the least benefit.  And yet, when an organization authentically stands for the good of the person AND the collective, maximum profitable growth occurs.

Companies that continue to center their purpose solely around financial results, using a labor force with no connection to purpose, community, meaning, or profit – will struggle to attract and keep employees over the next 10 years. It’s inevitable. Quarterly returns rules the day in our world – but it does not need to be at the expense of the well-being of people.  If you view “people vs. profit” as an either/or equation, you will continue to see higher turnover and higher disengagement.

For one simple reason: The psychology is backwards from how change actually happens in human beings and communities.

“Change management” should not be about motivating the many toward change wanted by the few. True change management is calling forth and allowing people’s natural collective motivation to shine and gain momentum. Then, they create change.

Servant leadership is a good description of the mindset, organizational structure, and relationship framework needed for this shift.

This applies to any company of any size.  As our economy rapidly shifts to automating rote tasks, teaching leadership skills around human relationship, resiliency, and collaboration will become the new winner’s circle in business.

To be servant leaders, requires focus on:

  • Inspiring people through building trust – empowerment
  • Igniting passion for what needs to be done – clarity and focus
  • Removing bureaucracy, random prioritization, and arbitrary decision making that plagues projects and momentum.

3) Believing “Things will go back to normal when Millennials grow up.”

There is no more steady state.

As the world has flattened and become more transparent, faster and fiercer competitive forces are the new normal. (not just in the corporate world.)  Worker and customer expectations are colliding with the ability of every organization in every industry to meet complex demands and constant change.

The “spaces between change” are shorter and smaller.

Annual changes in the Fortune 500 list – and profitability – demonstrate how quickly you can become extinct.

Culture builders view the capacity to change as an essential business process – and that begins with a look in the mirror. Change happens inside-out.

The goal of culture builders is to foster clarity and alignment, trust, and collaboration around a unique purpose. This is what creates competitive advantage and a culture that is difficult for competitors to copy.

  • Adaptability is a collective attitude that embraces change.
  • Adaptability is a capability, not an event.
  • Adaptability is the seedbed for ALL organizational innovation.
  • Adaptability is how any entity (or ecosystem) avoids extinction.

The most important capability in being adaptable, is to activate the Fingerprints Rule in change efforts.

The Fingerprints Rule: If you want people to OWN the change, create a process that allows them to CREATE the change.  The Fingerprints Rule is like having all the super powers and magic wands in the kingdom sitting in front of you.

It requires answering ONE question regarding change:

“Why should our people WANT to make this change?”

4) Underestimating the era of personal branding.

Most of the younger generation manages their career with their eye on their needs first and foremost – NOT the organization’s.

If culture builders don’t capture people’s hearts, their needs will eventually eclipse yours and they will leave. Every time.

Every group or system seeks to harness individual mindsets, capabilities, challenges, and behaviors into a collective drive. In doing so, effective culture builders create a Team Brand and Project Brand and Company Brand that aligns with and expresses your employee’s individual desire for uniqueness.

And, the capacity to adapt quickly must be grown from the inside-out, on a person-by-person basis. (Not from executive mandates or shareholder expectations.)

This is especially true with Millennials.  When people know what’s important and believe in what the company does (and its leadership), they can fix almost any problem in the business.

Your people KNOW how to help you compete better and build a great workplace.  Align their desire to build their personal brand with your company’s brand – and watch magic happen.

Having facilitated and witnessed many companies seeking to “Build Change Capacity” I promise you: When you shift the attitude and mindset, you will discover …

Change is doable and simpler.

Change is exhilarating and fun.


This blog was excerpted from segments of our Culture Builder Toolkit.

Culture builders: Grab your copy at 50% off during our Spring Sale this week!

(Enter Coupon: Happy@Work at checkout. Expires May 24.)



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