Why a new organisational culture doesn't translate into behaviour change.
By Ruth Tearle
Why is it so difficult to get people to change the way they behave so that their behaviour supports a new organisational culture?
Why do most cultural change programmes fail so miserably once the hype of the roadshows are over?
Here are 5 reasons why your culture change intervention is likely to fail.
Often leaders try to develop a new organisational culture by creating a new set of organisational values. These values are written in the form of nouns or naming words. For example:
Sometimes organisations add in adjectives to better define their values such as:
Occasionally they try to get closer to a doing word (a verb) by adding the word 'be' next to the adjective. For example:
Then they have many workshops where they 'unpack their values'. At these workshops employees brainstorm all the different ways they can be creative, or be a collaborative team player.
With all that thinking, naming and describing, why are leaders surprised that no-one actually does anything differently. And when no-one's behaviour changes, how can they expect the organisational culture to change?
Behaviour is about acting and doing.
Therefore to describe behaviour, use doing words or VERBS.
Companies that successfully change the behaviour of people in their organisations to support a new culture, are those that focus on doing. They choose a few specific behaviours that they want to see their employees and leaders practicing. They write these behaviours as sentences and ensure that each sentence contains a doing word or verb. e.g.
When changing behaviours in an organisational culture, the principle of LESS IS MORE applies. A few specific behaviours, practiced and recognised over time, is far more effective than creating and unpacking long lists of nouns and adjectives.
Culture change fails when it's about naming rather than doing.
Often leaders think that all they need to do to change an organisational culture is to choose and communicate new organisational values. They naively believe that:
What they don't understand is that changing behaviour is not about knowing, it’s about doing.
If you want to change behaviour, knowing is not enough.
Leaders have an attitude of "They must change. I can carry on as normal." And "I can only give culture change a few weeks of my time and then it must just happen."
So what happens is:
Leaders fail to accept that that behaviour occurs within a system. One cannot change the
behaviour of employees without changing a number of related elements within the system.
To change behaviour, you have to change the system
In every culture, there are a few status symbols that demonstrate who is important. These symbols drive behaviour. Examples of status symbols include:
These cultural symbols demonstrate to all that in that culture, what is truly important is positional power - rather than the new values. While these symbols continue, the old culture will remain in force.
"I want innovation and collaboration. Just don't think you are as important as me."
When you change a symbol that demonstrates status, power and importance - employees are delighted. This is because new values often give more power to employees.
However the leaders who rely on positional power and status symbols are angry. They believe that being treated as an equal reduces their own power and status. They will resist a culture change that reduces their power in every way they can.
Often at the first sign of resistance, the people who are supposed to be driving the culture change, get taken back.
Culture is the sum total of how different groups within an organisation behave automatically - often without being aware of what they are doing or saying.
To change a culture we need to: