Did you forget the key part of your culture change program?

If you want your people to change then you have to take them on the change journey. 

Congratulations on your new culture! 

Wow you really put some hard work into this one didn’t you? All those customer surveys which you commissioned, all those hours in the boardroom pacing back and forward as you thrashed out new ideas and a new way, not to mention that great work which the PR company did in coming up with a natty new slogan; all that time and effort has coalesced into this one moment when you launch your new culture on the world. 

In fact you worked so hard you probably deserve a holiday before you skip onto the next project. Oh wait, haven’t you forgotten one thing, where are your employees in all of this? Do you really think that a bald announcement is going to be enough to change their attitudes and behaviours? Don’t you think they deserve at least some explanation, some glimpse into the change process which will help them to align to the new culture? 

Of course they do! Well there’s no of course about it at all. We could cite all too many examples of business leaders who believe that they have done all the hard work and now it is up to employees to simply change as required. We could cite cases where employees are told of a new slogan, without any understanding of that slogan actually means or the new behaviours which are supposed to back it up; cases where cynical employees have learnt that if they use the new buzzword in applications their projects will be approved, without the need to change behaviour at all; cases where organisational revamps have left employees feeling rudderless as the reasons behind the departmental reshuffles are never articulated so people simply don’t know what they are supposed to do or who they are supposed report to in the future. 

We could cite all these cases and more but what they all boil down to is the simple truth that unless organisational leaders take time to explain and to align employees with the new culture everything which has gone before is simply a waste of time and money. You don’t change hearts and minds with an announcement, you don’t change behaviours with a slogan. If you want people to change then you not only have to give them a reason to change, you have to work to bring a deep understanding of the need for change and you have to lead by example. 

There is no point in changing the culture to one which focuses on customer needs unless you help employees to interact and empathise with customers. There is no point in promoting the idea of innovation if you carry on punishing failure. And there is certainly no point in transforming the culture to one which looks towards long-term sustainability if you reward based on short-term gain. 

Culture change is not simply a slogan or a new set of regulations. Nor is it something which can be imposed without explanation. If you want your people to change then you have to take them on the change journey. Yes you may have to trail-blaze, to work out the shape of the future pathway; and you may have to prepare the conditions for change, setting new pay and reward structures and devising expected behaviours. But at the end of the day, as leaders it is your job to then engage hearts and minds in the change; bringing understanding and alignment to the people who will carry it through. 

So do we congratulate you on your new culture which you have worked hard to embed in your organisation, or do we simply nod as we see yet another meaningless slogan appear and then be consigned to the ashes of history? 

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