How to Change an Organization
The difference between great and average, when it comes to organizations, isn’t simply efficiency or effectiveness, it’s culture.
Great organizations have great cultures. “The context in which people work shapes them.” Brook Manville.
But what is culture?
Culture goes beyond what you do to how you do. It’s the way you:
- Interact, most importantly.
Brook Manville, former Director of Knowledge Management at McKinsey and Company and co-author of Judgment Calls, said,
“At McKinsey we were fond of saying, ‘It’s the way we do business around here.’” Manville added, “One way to look at culture is to consider mindsets, behaviors, and attitudes.”
Culture but how?
If you want to change an organization – grow new leaders.
Manville said, “The most successful organizational culture changes I’ve seen were framed as leadership development programs.
Cultures change when:
- You catalyze new kinds of leadership.
- More and more people take leadership.”
Brook said, “The king and subject model doesn’t change cultures.” Great leaders don’t change people; they create environments where people change themselves.
Growing new leaders doesn’t necessarily mean replacing old. It means changing the way people think about:
- Themselves and their roles within the organization.
What is organizational culture?
What can leaders do to create great cultures?
Subscribe to Leadership Freak today. It’s free, practical, and brief. The subscribe button is in the upper right of the home page. I’ll never sell your email address, promise.
There is a lot of wisdom in the blog, thanks for sharing!
I’d like to add that leadership is something that not only the (formal) leaders can do, but can be done by everybody in the organization. Experienced professionals can lead others in learning better ways to do their work. Self steering teams (e.g. in Agile) can lead their own work in delivering new products. If a company has established a culture of continuous improvement, any employee can lead an improvement initiative as I described in the Golden Rules for Agile Process Improvement (http://www.benlinders.com/2011/golden-rules-for-agile-process-improvement/).
Leading is a role, an activity and a value, not a function. Everybody can be a leader.
You’re bringing out a point that Brook made that I didn’t have space in today’s post to include.
You and Brook are completely aligned with the idea that everyone can lead. Brook used the term small “L” leaders… people who may not have titles or official position but who lead, non the less.
Thanks for sharing your insights.
For me, I vision cast. I say it from many perspectives, I live it in different arenas around my team, I teach it in different ways and using many types of creative metaphors. I even blog about it. It’s like our core values and guiding principles (what we believe we are called to do and why we are called to do it). What we believe in our culture tells us who we are and who we are not by our skills, personality types, and what we are good at and gifted to do. I sometimes even do slideshows, Youtube Videos, podcasts, “talking head” videos, keynotes, powerpoints, training programs, etc. I go all out on this culture thing. I an a few others probably go way overboard with this, but we want to communicate on every level and in many kinds of ways of how we do business, how we do social mead, how we do ministry, and how we live our lives. We have cute slogans that we use. We even use specific colors that coordinate with different areas of what we do. If I say, “Purple!” someone will say, “That’s our color for ministry.” If I say, “Red!” They will say, “That’s our color for fellowship, unity, loyalty.” I write e-books and newsletters to our email list using a culture system that when people read and see certain words in certain colors the know what I am talking about. lol! Yea we go way overboard in creating a culture for our ministry network for what we are about and what we do.
A very interseting and the live topic. The organiztion sucess is largely dependent on its work culture It’s the responsibility of CEO to instil the value system within the organization with fairness and transpearncy both at internal and extenal levels. HR will then have its role in educatiing employee staff and ensuring productive results with harmonious realtionship at all hierarchy levels.
The treatment to your people should be of the finest type. They need to be respected for their knowledege, skills & experience. It’s the same self-motivated and satisfied people who would perform to their best level to make the organization grow consistently.
Leaders need to play an exemplary role for people to get encouraged and committed to deliver expected results. Value-additions and work ethics are two important things which can form the good work culture together with professionalism.
A very good post about changing culture. I absolutely agree that leaders create environment where people change themselves. Besides, I would add 4PS: Philosophy, people, policy and practices. Organizations must have good philosophy. They should bring in people who can own and preach that philosophy. These people make policy that shape and strengthen philosophy and such practices make culture. Practices play major role in creating culture. Having good policy is not enough, Leader should be in position to make policy practiced in the same way.
Additionally, there exists two culture. Top down culture: the culture that top management expect other people to do. And bottom up culture: the culture people at lower level practice. It means, in the organization, there are sub culture, depending upon hierarchy, position and department.
However, great leaders create great culture. They create culture of confidence, trust, openness, public appreciation, respect etc, And this create great culture that is sustainable.
Timely topic! Pat Lencioni’s latest book is about organizational health as the key competitive difference, and the health components he writes about are all aspects of culture. I recommend it.
Re growing new leaders, our CEO says you can either change people or change people. If your existing leaders can get on board with a changed culture that’s best because you retain all the institutional knowledge. If they can’t, well, change them out for some new ones.
I agree that culture is a very important part of any organization. The culture around decision-making is often key to any changes that you make. http://tregoed.ning.com/profiles/blogs/creating-culture
Culture is the aggregate result of the behaviors people engage in regularly. Change how people behave and you change culture in an organization.
Perhaps my favorite idea about change comes from Arnold Beisser, a Gestalt psychologist, who said sometime in the mid-70s that change happens when you become more of who you are, not when you try to become something you are not.
Counterintuitive. And profound.
Quite true to what you say. Yet, changing the behaviour of people is the most toughest task. My experience says that good professionalism is desirable and it can prevail with sound built-in systems and work norms.
The top management has a big role to play when the basic cultural changes are required. This is more the need of an hour when company is passing through a difficult phase of low business revenues and tough competition. HR takes over its basic role of change agents when the situation actulaly demands its intervention with a speed & pressing the toughness button.
This is one of the most important and least understood topics in management. It is possible – and important – to “measure” culture because we cannot “see it”. Some of it is apparent through behaviour, but we cannot see how people think and interpret events, actions and symbols. We often don’t even know which events, actions and symbols have cultural relevance. What goes unnoticed in one organization, like the wallpaper, is noticed and read as a cue in others. I’m all for measuring culture to understand what it really is.
Failing that, we can shape culture intentionally by managing behaviour. Writing “climate goals” with the senior team and cascading them through the organization along with strategic plans is one way I’ve seen it succeed. Say we want to encourage a different behaviour around innovation, changing a culture in which mistakes are punished to one in which innovation is encouraged. (This one’s not easy!) We can set a new cultural value with the executive team by defining the behaviour we all agree to live by and which we want to see in action throughout. We might write the behavioural goal as “We try new ideas and intentionally learn from our successes and missteps”.
As with strategic plans, writing it does not make it so. We must then manage our own behaviour so that we are the visible and active models for this behaviour. We can do this by rating ourselves as a team every quarter and having a discussion about the ratings we’ve assigned ourselves. These discussions can be searching and very personal, but they are the best way to “hold a mirror” up for ourselves and to begin what all leaders must do to change culture. We’ve got to be the change, actively and visibly. It’s that simple – and that difficult.
Wonderful post. I would greatly appreciate suggestions for “measuring” culture. Do you have tips or tools to share?
In the safety world we measure what is known as the safety climate of an organization. Let me know if you would be interested in the questionnaire I use, which could be modified to measure the culture climate of an organization. At least it will give you a start. There are 40 questions.
I don’t have the tools to measure culture. I ran across them when helping to merge three organizations. The tool came from one of the three, which had a very well developed OD group. Their work was neither understood nor valued by the leaders of the merged organization. As a result, these people and their methods disappeared from the radar. I believe their resource came from either ED Tel (Edmonton, Alberta) or Nova Chemicals, but I can’t be sure of that.
I haven’t pursued the measurement of culture because it is “off strategy” for me. My work focuses on the development and implementation of strategic plans. If any work on culture is required within my client organizations, I guide the executive team through an analysis of the practices which they think help and hinder their own shared decision making, effectiveness and collaboration, with the goal to be better as a team than they are as individuals. From this, they define the behaviours which they feel indicate “success”. I follow up by getting them to rate their own performance as a team quarterly for a year, and to make action plans and commitments that will help to improve their team scores. When they feel this is important, it works. It’s not for everyone, though, and I have found it to be a waste of time unless it springs from issues and aspirations they have surfaced.
Great post Dan.
I’m fond of pointing out to leaders that they have a culture, whether or not they’re aware of it, tuned in to it, or proactively helping to shape it. Do you really want to leave it to it’s own devices? Or do you want to be at the core of it?
“Great leaders don’t change people; they create environments where people change themselves.” Wow. Powerful stuff, Dan. One of the best things I have read in a long time. Thank you.
Wonderful day to be a miner at the LF mines!
Great points all, thank you very much. What is culture and how do you change it for the better? What does change imply? And how does Dan do this in 300 words or less!!?
If you have a leader ‘saying’ we need to change, that is one thing and of little interest to most. If you have a leader who says, “I need to keep learning and grow/change from what I learn”, that may pique some interest.
If you have have a leader who vigilantly demonstrates,with every interaction, in every moment (no small task) that s/he values learning–>growth–>humility–>service, et al, which requires her/him to keep changing, perhaps more powerful.
And if that same leader, in a very overt and aligned manner, truly engages all levels of the culture in that value….I want to work there!
As Ajay clearly noted there are at least two cultures in an organization, top down/bottom up, both need seamless alignment to the value.
That does not mean it is a frictionless process. To the contrary, there may need to be consistent friction, else how do you grow? (Pace and timing do have roles here too.) People have a natural tendency to move–>reside–>sometimes stagnant into a perceived comfort zone. Learning can cause one to look at those perceptions…with nudging from the cultural values of course.
The servant leadership challenge is within the constraints of resources. If the white flag of all things fiscal causes learning to surrender or take a back seat, the second law of thermodynamics is not far behind. Learning can still occur without explicit resources, not easily, but it can occur. Learning does have to be locked into the everyday processes though and again held in high regard by leadership…and the culture.
Over the years I have been involved with numerous organizational culture studies and efforts to “change” cultures and what I have found is that culture is extraordinarily complex, dynamic, and difficult to change. You might say, “Gee wiz Jim, really, so what else is new?”
In safety world in which I work, I cannot tell you how many companies have tried to “change” their safety culture. Virtually all of these efforts end up failing or worse yet creating dissension among the folks who are most prone to being injured.
I recall going to work for Conoco weeks after DuPont purchased the company. DuPont is world renowned for its “safety culture,” so it was fascinating to watch a high risk taking enterprise like an oil company, who BTW owned a coal company at the time, undergo integrating into a low risk taking chemical company. Over time I began to realize that although DuPont likes to promote its “safety culture” I found its attitude toward safety was no different than its attitude toward business, people, customers, etc. Interestingly, Conoco, which was a fairly safe company to begin with, was rather comfortable overall with adopting safety practices found in DuPont.
So what? For me, I don’t believe one can make a wholesale change in a company’s culture. The culture is what it is. People come to work and adapt to the prevailing culture in order to survive and thrive. If an employee is a misfit, eventually his/her behavior catches up with them and they fall behind their peers and possibly are terminated.
Rather than focusing on the culture, focus on creating conditions that allow people to survive and thrive. BTW, too many leaders think to accomplish this there is some magic silver bullet that promotes a one-size-fits-all method of leadership. If it were that easy, we would all be selling the magic silver bullet. Indeed, many of us do. Alas, it is not easy to change culture or people, because too many leaders feel like they have to give up too much personal power and control to bring it about.
Successful leaders who focus on the survive and thrive model actually end up with more power and control in the end because their employees are committed to the company’s success, which translates into their personal success.
No one has mentioned “love” as a necessary concept for organizational change. The measurement of change within organizations may at times be merely anecdotal. Coercive measures to gain compliance may work, but are not always the best means. Organizational culture is not the same as organizational structure. The concept of learning organizations is exciting, but chaos is not generally not an option. Servant leadership does work in organizations, spirituality and in life. So does mentorship and prayer.
Show me your organization’s culture and I’ll tell you the strength of those in leadership.
I would interested in knowing how one would “Show” you an organization’s culture.
Great conversation starter, Dan. I enjoyed this one. I love the idea of changing the environment in which people work instead of changing them. Honestly, I’m not we really can change people even if we try. We can only present options and do our best to steer them. There are lot of great comments here, so overall this is just a great read. I wrote about defining culture the other day on my own blog, which you could find here:http://micahyost.blogspot.com/2012/05/culture-equation.html
Reblogged this on thrive development.
Great post Dan! It matches with my own experiance of transformation once people are empowered and they start taking leadership. This model helps organisations in freeing up the executive time for creating future.
Biggest problems in such transformations are incompetancies and blinders which people carry. Organisations which win are the ones who recognise such roadblocks and allow them a graceful exit.
Good One. Change is the biggest constant in today’s business world but people hate change. Right? because people think that they have to change the priorities as well.
Change should be lovable so that every one can accept.
I’ve always thought of culture as how a company communicates and how it makes decisions. That’s why culture is so highly linked to leadership.