The Culture Change Chip: Have You Installed It Yet?
Repetitive reorganizations make people uncertain.
In retail, a “loss leader” is an advertising or product strategy that gets people in the door. It’s not the money-maker, but it draws people in to hopefully purchase higher-profit items.
The steady stream of organizational change initiatives in companies today is like a “loss leader” for authentic culture change. Most executives choose a growth or improvement change with a strategic goal in mind: Sustained growth and better profit. But from the perspective of employees, repetitive reorganizations, strategy shifts, and leadership changes are mostly a sign “nothing is certain” and “my life is up in the air again.” Those insecurities are rarely discussed or acknowledged – instead, they quietly erode the creativity and productivity of teams and projects every day. The real goal – healthy, profitable business – is not “bought” by the masses, in spite of the attractive words and concepts and pleas from management to make it seem appealing.
Bottom line: Change is rarely done in a way that leaves people with dignity and confidence about the future.
Alternatively, what if you treated the painfully necessary era of constant change as a “loss leader”? Use constant change as an opportunity to initiate valuable conversations about the most profit-elevating activity you can engage in: Authentic conversations. This is what teaches people to lead change, versus being at the mercy of it. All the positive, all the negative is openly aired and discussed. Where we have seen companies embrace this central practice of culture change, transparency and trust quickly improve. And shortly after, major breakthroughs in the “right work” and the “right changes” are being implemented spontaneously, easily and quickly by the first-line managers and their teams.
“Open door” conversation leads to culture change
To illustrate: A commercial construction firm we worked with had struggled with field productivity for years. When they forced the honest conversations about what needed to change with the entire team, instead of focusing on one trouble spot in the system, they reached their productivity goals in a few short months. Rather than leaders plotting the needed changes behind closed doors, they opened the doors and made everyone aware of the challenge and put everyone’s energy and attention into solving the problem.
The emotional backlash that happens when you don’t approach change this way is crippling productivity in our change-fatigued workplaces. Change too often is a “secret” and a “decision” held by a “trusted” few at the top. As a result, 75% of change initiatives fail to generate the promised ROI, including mergers. All because the masses don’t buy the trick of the loss leader for the bigger gain. Decisions that impact people’s jobs or lives that don’t include a process to “buy into” the change risk long-term health of the business. It’s really that simple.
Because people don’t resist change. They resist being changed.
In an age of accelerating change and challenge, it’s critical for leaders to see their job as helping people learn to accept both change and loss as constant, natural and good. It’s like installing an upgrade in the computer program called “life is change.”
Here’s a version of the world when everyone has this chip:
1. Rational evaluation. When business profits sink or growth plateaus, we immediately see that something new wants to happen (even when we can’t see what that is). We don’t freak out, we have a widespread conversation about “What are we seeing.” “How can we adjust.” “What needs to happen next.”
2. Change acceptance even when it impacts personnel. When a change is made that impacts people’s daily schedules, salary, or job responsibilities – somehow these people had a voice in the process, even if they didn’t have a voice in the decision. No “Up in the Air” stuff, please!
3. Leader role clarity. Leaders see their role as helping people discover and see opportunities to adapt and improve the business, rather than controlling resources and decisions.
Through the process of guiding hundreds of leaders through change, we know this;
What creates stress in organizations is the unwillingness to plan for change as a normal event, and prepare to handle people’s inevitable emotional responses when it comes.
Techniques for changing culture boil down to one activity.
Fostering candid and human conversations that yield ” Aha!” moments across teams and departments. This is the truest and simplest form of culture change. Tremendous energy and creativity and ideas are released when people feel heard. When they are counted. When they are taught to discuss openly what they’re thinking.
Here’s hoping that’s a loss leader everyone can get behind.
Lisa Jackson is a corporate culture expert and co-author of 2 books including the brand new “Culture Builder Toolkit: A Step-by-Step Guide for Assessing and Changing Corporate Culture.” She specializes in teaching companies and leaders how to align and transform their corporate culture to maximize profitable growth, productivity, and innovation.