Culture Change

Culture Change. Seriously? We’re still talking about that?

“We need to change the culture.”


We need our people to be focused and productive and flexible and innovative, we need them to change and really embrace the goals of the organisation.”


“Because it’s the only way we will remain competitive in this changing world.”

“OK, so how about modelling that so everyone gets the idea.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well how about loosening the reigns a bit? How about changing some metrics from process to outcome? How about you reward flexibility and innovation?  How about you demonstrate flexibility by supporting ideas that don’t necessarily have all the metrics and spreadsheets to support them? How about you participate in conversations rather than interrogate? How about you reward attempts even when they fail?  How about you practice allowing failure in the interests of learning? How about you lighten the reporting load and listen for productive focus? How about in meetings you don’t make people feel small for not having thought of everything? How about calling out and addressing unacceptable behaviour?  I can help you work out what and how to do it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, the easiest and best and really the only way to get cultural change is for you to be the change you want to see.  Asking people to change the way they work but, retaining the way they need to interact with senior management and leaving in place the internal reporting requirements and punishing deviation from current norms will ensure not only that the culture doesn’t change, but that it becomes reinforced through ambiguity and fear”.

“You’ve got to be joking, I want the organisation to change, not make it a playground for people. The PowerPoint decks and metric reporting are essential so that I know what’s going on. I’m not going to change those, it’s the people I want to change. How can I trust people to do what’s needed if I can’t measure every step? If this is what you think change management is, I’ll get someone else to do it”.

“Well if you want we can get some metrics about who’s doing what and where changes can be made and we can run a program over 12 months and engage some levers to cause change.”

“Now you’re talking”.

“It will cost millions and probably won’t be effective.”

“But we have to do it, we have to do something.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to try the first approach and model the behaviour and change.”

“Totally, I’m not doing anything I can’t measure and monitor along the way.”

“I’ll come back to you.”

“OK, and you might read the latest articles on change management, I was reading the other day that there are processes and tools that are really effective. One report highlighted how a soft drink company increased its output by 8% by reducing breaks from 15 to 10 minutes – that’s the sort of innovation and flexibility we want here.”

Hands shaken, doors closed. The potential client feels he was clear about what he wants, is pretty clear he got his point across but isn’t that impressed with the potential consultant. Ponders the smarter choice of getting a big brand company in, to test and assess and roll out big initiatives, he knows the Board will endorse a bold and ambitious cultural change program. Yes, he reflects, that’s the way to go.

The potential consultant shakes their head.  They know the client thought their suggestion of modelling to be less than desirable and they accept they won’t get the work.  In a coffee shop with a large hot mug in front of them, they ask themselves the question: why?  They know it’s not that hard. They know it’s possible and it doesn’t have to cost the earth or take years.

A thought comes to them, and a moment of clarity. The client doesn’t want change at all. The consultant had answered the wrong question. The question being asked wasn’t how to make change happen but how to get people to love the way things are.

The whole change management conversation could turn on a pin. It’s not that hard. Real change takes modelling from the top and reinforcement of wanted behavior and outcome. It’s not hard, it’s not expensive and change starts immediately. Acceptance of what is requires marketing, and that’s easier and less expensive than one of the full blown change initiatives we see.

I don’t know why we’re still talking about it. Seriously, it’s not that hard.  But then, a lot of people make a lot of money doing it- perhaps that’s why we’re still talking about it.