In consulting with leaders who are trying to create change within their teams or organizations, I frequently hear a variation of the following:
“The team is ready for the change, but I’m not sure where to start.”
“We’ve been talking about culture but haven’t really done anything. What happens now?”
“We’ve been trying lots of things, but we’re not seeing change. We’re just stuck.”
When the rubber meets the road, it can be hard to go from the idea of culture change to actually changing culture. In these situations, it is critical for leaders to keep in mind that culture change is an adaptive challenge – that is, one that requires changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits, and loyalties. Adaptive challenges don’t have clear answers, easy solutions, or quick fixes. Instead, they are complex, messy and take time!
In spite of the complexity, there are very concrete things that you can do as a leader to get your team “unstuck” in the midst of a culture change process. And, like any adaptive challenge, it has to start with a little self-reflection to better understand the role you’re playing in helping – or hindering – the change process.
1. Look in the mirror – You have to be all-in for the change to happen because your team looks to you for guidance on culture actions and behaviors. Take time to reflect on and work through your own resistance to the change before helping others work through theirs. Consider processing your own role and concerns with a trusted advisor, colleague or mentor.
2. Face reality – Facing the honest facts of your culture – the good, bad and ugly – will address the elephant in the room, help ensure you can get beyond surface level change, and provide guidance for where to start. Consider facilitating a conversation with your team about the greatest culture needs, or utilize a culture assessment to gain clarity on the overall state of culture.
3. Invest the team – People need to feel the culture change to fully invest in the process, not just hear about it (or see a 90 slide PowerPoint presentation). Tap in to emotions by sharing an inspiring customer story that demonstrates what’s at stake. Or consider a “What’s In It For Me” reflection activity to help the team see the benefit of the change for themselves, the organization, and your customers.
4. Involve others – Even Michael Jordan didn’t win a championship by himself. Every team member is responsible for shaping culture, so get others involved to help you lead the change. Tap in to the energy, experience and insight within your team by having others facilitate team activities, lead culture working groups, or help you shape the overall plan for moving culture forward.
5. Have a plan – Change is complex, and it requires a roadmap for how you will proceed. How will your team engage on culture and how often? How and when will you assess progress? Who is responsible for implementing strategies and how will you follow up? A plan creates clarity for you and your team and signifies that the change isn’t of the “flavor of the month” variety.
6. Connect it to the work – Changing culture is a full contact sport, not a theoretical, “warm and fuzzy” concept – so get in there and mix it up! Culture should be a natural part of how you communicate, operate, and work with one another as a team. Once you’re clear on your vision for culture, work with the team to generate – and commit to – concrete ways to integrate that vision in day-to-day work.
Lastly, don’t forget to celebrate victories when they happen – even if they are small but new behaviors that signify meaningful effort from your team. Savoring the good stuff can help you maintain momentum, keep the team invested, and maybe even get “unstuck” when it feels like your wheels are spinning.