Do I have your attention?
Excellent, because it feels as if everyone is calling for culture change as the cure to whatever is wrong with the country or their company.
Donald Trump commented that President Obama needs to spend less time on the basketball court and more time fixing the economy. All the protests you would expect followed along with calls from all sides that we need to change the culture of racism perpetuated through the use of stereotypes and assumptions.
It turns out that there are a multitude of culture problems. There is also, according to experts I’ve heard interviewed in the past month, a culture of obesity, celebrity, intolerance, reverse racism, and debt. We may soon see the release of a new culture problem every week – just like feature films.
It is no different in organizations. I recently attended a conference where no less than four speakers exhorted attendees to change their culture to succeed. They suggested a culture of accountability, a culture of service, a culture of quality, and a culture of respect. There would have been more, but the conference had to break for lunch.
Fortunately for me – since I help organizations change their culture – none of these speakers actually knew anything about what it takes to create any of the cultures they suggested. Then again, I’m pretty sure that most of those advocating for change in our society don’t actually understand the complexity of changing a society’s culture.
How You Change a Culture
“Culture” is the habits – spoken and unspoken – that define how things are done.
Most people believe that changing the culture will lead to a change in behavior or performance. Actually, it’s the other way around.
Culture change follows behavior and performance change. You can’t talk your way to culture change any more than you can dream your way to success.
The culture of obesity will change when unhealthy behaviors are replaced with healthy ones. The culture of racism that Trump perpetuated will change when people habitually think about the impact of their words on the feelings and treatment of others. And, the culture of blaming the culture for anything and everything with which we disagree will change when people stop going on television to blame the culture for every behavior that in some way offends them.
In your organization, accountability, service, quality, and respect will improve when the performance around these areas improve.
With that in mind, here are five things you can do to change the culture where you live or where you work.
- Change the mindset. The assumption is that increased awareness about the need to behave or perform differently will motivate people to change. Here’s the rub: the word “motivation” comes from the root word “motive.” A motive is an internal desire, and that means the best thing you can hope for is to tap into some internal desire to behave or perform in the desired manner. Awareness can work, but only if it successfully taps into individual desire. Utilizing the strategies that follow can influnece a mindset change over time by allowing people to experience success with the new performance or behavior.
- Change the knowledge, skills, or ability. Education and training are required when people want to do the right thing but do not know how. Training programs are often the preferred intervention for organizations that want to change their culture. There’s a problem, however. Providing new knowledge or skills is a waste of time when the person can do what you want them to do and chooses not to.
- Change the process. A clear, defined process creates a routine that becomes a habit. Process is extremely beneficial when you want to instill discipline. The best organizations implement processes that are designed to meet and exceed customer expectations. Likewise, processes that teach best practices would be useful when attacking problems such as obesity.
- Change the consequences. People do things for their own reasons. They continue those things that get them what they want – like publicity or recognition – and cease those that don’t. Change the rewards for doing what you want. Change the consequences for doing what you don’t want. And most important, make sure that you don’t punish good performance.
- Change the people. Cultures die when they are no longer remembered. Unfortunately, that will mean that some changes won’t happen until the people who are keeping the bad habits alive are replaced with people who model the behavior or performance you want.
To change a society, that unfortunately means that some things won’t change until people die and are replaced with people who don’t share their views. In your organization, that means that you may have to fire people who aren’t promoting and sustaining your culture. And, it means that you must evaluate every new hire based on their ability to make your culture come alive.
So was Trump misunderstood, or does he truly harbor feelings of racist superiority? I have no clue.
The one thing I do know is that there is a lesson to be learned for you and your organization any time you hear someone say, “You need to change the culture.”
You change the culture by changing the performance or behavior.