Friday, October 2, 2009

Culture Change - Mind-shift

In almost every conversation with executives and senior managers, we hear a desire to shift mind-sets or change the organization's "culture." When we drill down, they tend to express little more than vague hopes and longings. For example, "We want salespeople to become proactive; we need our salespeople to collaborate with clients; our supervisors need to step up and coach people; and we want a culture of collaboration and involvement." (You get the idea.)

Executives and business owners seem to know what they want, but struggle to effectively influence other's mind-sets or change their organization's underlying "culture." There is no shortage of information, since a search for "culture change" on Yahoo produced an astounding 88,100,000 hits! (Whew!) Let's cut through this mass of information and focus on what truly matters. Much of what you've read or heard about culture change is, to be blunt, wrong.

Our worldview colors our thinking, but we are often unaware of their specific influence. For example, if we believe people fundamentally resist change, our actions reflect that belief. As a result, we design strategies and take actions to deal with the resistance we caused. This sets in motion reactions to our actions which seem to confirm our beliefs as we filter out evidence that may disprove our worldview.

Culture lives in conversation and conversations are created by people with deeply held worldviews.

The assumption that others will automatically resist is self-defeating and self-fulfilling. We are swimming upstream here, since plenty of literature implies that resistance is primarily the "fault" of the resistor. But what if the ideas presented are poorly conceived or presented? How are differences of opinion dealt with in the organization? Are "resistors" chastised, ostracized, booted out, put down, and/or given a platform on which to speak? Do executives quickly get defensive at so-called "negative" feedback? If there is an open-door policy, do people walk through the door and what do they tell (or withhold from) executives? Are we genuinely stimulating dialogue at our company or simply reinforcing a climate of power and control?

The following from Noam Chomsky, in the Montreal Serai [Vol. 13, No. 3, Autumn 2000], is lengthy, but hang in there with it, it's quite sobering and highly relevant to this conversation.

If we consider the likelihood that as humans we have an instinct for creativity and moral instincts . . . that has problems. For one thing it means that you will encourage challenge of authority and domination. It will encourage questioning of powerful institutions. The fact of the matter is that honesty, integrity, creativity, all these things we're supposed to value, all run up dramatically against the hierarchic, authoritarian structure of the institutional framework in which we live. . . . Behaviorism is very popular among the managerial classes, for not surprising reasons. For one thing, it gives them a moral right to control and dominate people. If people have no intrinsic nature, then there is no moral barrier to control or manipulation of them - in their own interest, of course. . . Behaviorism gave the perfect intellectual justification for it; it didn't matter that the intellectual foundations were ridiculous. It served a function so it survived. And the parts of the society that need that, they still believe it--in fact, believe it more than ever.

Taking a stand for freedom and choice is largely unpopular in spite of the rhetoric professing otherwise. Our behavior often exposes a basic desire to control the uncontrollable - other people.

Stand #1: "You cannot motivate others."

(We resist the temptation of "proving" our point, a common diversion initiated by those looking to avoid the issue that much of what we do is clearly an attempt at command or control, or more simply put, manipulation.)

Taking a stand is distinct from "core beliefs." There is an implication that in order to perform at a high level, others need to share our beliefs. Perhaps, but this contention also takes us down the road of "selling" others on believing what we believe, which often deteriorates into "selling" them on our worldviews. People with distinctly different belief systems can, and do, achieve spectacular results together without ever changing their individually held beliefs.

Stand #2: "All motivation is intrinsic - from within, not without."

 We base this on our experience in hundreds of meetings backed up by a 19 year study quoted in Fast Company Magazine involving 356 companies by Paul C. Nutt, a professor of management at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business. According to Nutt, "Most (executives) pushed their decisions through, either by persuasion (41%), or by edict (40%)." Each approach is a formula for failure. Persuasion failed 53% of the time; edicts failed in 65% of the cases. "The typical problem", Nutt says, "isn't just that decisions lack merit. It's that staffers resent these heavy-handed tactics and thus resist or undermine bosses who resort to them."

A better way is to clearly articulate goals or outcomes using visual language. Ensure that your outcomes are not just knee-jerk reactions to circumstances, and clearly place a "stake in the ground." Those who truly care about the viability of the enterprise will embrace changes clearly on behalf of something more important to them than the discomfort of change. Creating something of genuine personal value is distinctly different than "buying-in" to something the organization is "rolling out."

One example is an organization whose owners expressed a desire to "drive out waste." More than 90 managers and 300 employees engaged in the initiative with a dramatically different approach. For two hours, managers grappled to change the "make waste go away" (seek and destroy) into a "turning waste into profit and sharing the wealth." This is more than a semantics exercise. It is a distinct shift in perspective and way of thinking. These managers engaged others in a project that supported their spirit of fun, commitment, and creativity. Each member of the project shared in the profits and helped the enterprise add money to its bottom-line. There was virtually no resistance. Young, part-time students (millennials) gladly engaged in the fun and shared in the results. Senior managers were in shock, since these same employees resisted similar initiatives. Clearly the employees were no different than before. A different approach created a dramatically different outcome. A distinction made to owners and managers was that the "sharing the wealth" component was not an "incentive program," instead it was an invitation to be part of a genuine creative process.

[Call Dave at 905-826-7300 if you believe they are one in the same.]

If you're up for facing reality with courage, listen for how many times you inadvertently shift into a manipulative mode.

Are you trying to produce an outcome, or simply get your way?

Are you trying to get others to "buy-in" to your worldviews or are you listening for differences and commitments that bring fresh views to the table?

Are you trying to get others to "believe" something, or accomplish something? (There is a distinct difference.)

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