Culture is elastic, it is the hardest thing to change in any organization, the ‘way people do things around here” to quote Michael Porter, is a powerful organiser of behavior.
Changing culture by decree from the corner office simply does not work, all it does is depreciate the credibility of the person issuing the decree.
Often the decree is associated with some mandated behavior changes, they can be imposed, but once the pressure comes off, and in the absence of the changed behavior being well bedded in, it reverts to the old models as soon as the mandate is not aggressively enforced, just like taking away the stretching device in a length of elastic.
The only way to eliminate the ‘elastic effect” is to cut it, by encouraging employees to change their behavior because they see the sense in it, and the change is consistent with their own best interests.
Four ways to make it a bit easier:
- Don’t try and change everything at once by decree. Instead, pick a few critical behaviors, and demonstrate a determination to change them, and articulate the reasons why they must change.
- Recognise that not all the behaviors of an existing system will be bad, there will be good elements that warrant retention, even prominence, so highlight them.
- Ensure that the behaviors you are seeking are consistent with the behavior demonstrated by the senior management
- Ensure that the behaviors required are consistent with the strategy, business model selected to deliver it, and the metrics by with performance of the business and individuals is measured.
If this seems simple, don’t be fooled. Changing culture is the hardest task any leader has, Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s list of the 10 reasons people resist change is a great one. Most “leaders” are not up to the task, and then they are called Managers.