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You may be able to change habits by instruction and coercion, but if you want to change the culture then you have to find a way for people to engage with the new ethos.
How do you change culture? Is it through actions or example, through discussions or informed debate? In truth, it’s all these and more. When organisational leaders are determined to reshape the culture then they should use all means at their disposal in order to get employee buy-in to, and engagement with, the new culture.
But sometimes no amount of discussion, or training, or example will send people along the required pathway; and when that happens leaders may needs to take more drastic action to force people to think about their habits and to encourage change. To give you an idea of this let’s look at an example which is in the headlines at the moment.
The debate about the environmental impact of plastic bag use has gone on for years. Some people have taken it to heart, refusing to accept plastic bags under any circumstances whilst others expect to receive a bag, even if a single item is being purchased. Now England has joined the rest of the UK in imposing a charge on plastic bag use. However, unlike the rest of the UK the charge in England will only apply to larger organisations and even they will be able to issue bags for certain items.
Will the charge result in a reduction in plastic bag use? Wales introduced the charge in 2011 and has seen a reduction in use of 71%. Scotland and Northern Ireland followed later but are also seeing reductions. That would imply that this form of coercion works, at least on the surface. But people will only really buy in to the idea of a reduction in plastic use when they start to refuse bags not because of the price but because of the underlying impact.
It’s a lesson which business leaders would do well to remember. You may be able to change habits by instruction and coercion, but if you want to change the culture then you have to find a way for your people to engage with the new ethos.