At any moment in time, thousands of leaders are discussing how to change and improve their organizational cultures.
How can we engage and make the change personal for us?
1. Respect the culture and leaders that came before. We change cultures to remain competitive, be more innovative, focus on delivering results, and so on. Whatever you think about the culture and leaders that came before, please keep it to yourself. When we criticize a culture, the people who show up to work each day, do their best, and link elements of their identity to it, think we are criticizing them. When we criticize the decisions of the past, we play a toxic game of armchair quarterbacking. People make decisions in a moment with all of the context, high stakes, pressure, and stress of that moment. There is no way, months or years later, for the next leaders to recreate that moment in time, so stop doing it. We are here to create forward progress with our employees to serve future customers, clients, and communities; not look in the rearview mirror and celebrate our superior claims that we would have done it differently.
2. Stop framing questions poorly. When we create villains, become victims, and feel we are helpless to change things, nothing improves, including our collective mindset. When you find yourself or your team speaking about all of the things other departments have said or done to keep you from being successful, reframe the discussion. Ask: What am I personally willing to do to make things the way I want them? What are we willing to do as a team to move forward? What is the real problem here? How can we work together to solve it?
3. Consider your pronouns. If you are using pronouns like they and them and you are not discussing your competitors, stop! The language of other drives cynicism, disengagement, and vicious compliance. We should be striving for commitment and engagement instead.
4. Culture changes one action at a time. Ultimately, cultures are the set of behaviors in an organization that show up repeatedly. As leaders, begin to change things immediately by showing up in a way that role models the desired behavior you want to see in others. If you want your people to be more decisive, give them the tools and space to make decisions. If you want people to speak their minds at meetings, talk 75% less yourself, and make it safe for them to talk. If you want to increase accountability, set clear expectations, check for understanding, agree on an action plan, and follow up. Changing culture is about the next 10 minutes and the ten after that.
Takeaway: Culture change is not passive and it’s not up to somebody else. Ignore what others are not doing or haven’t done and focus your time and attention on what you can do with your team to make things the way you want them.