November 30, 2017
The Idiot Savant's Guide to Accelerating Culture Change

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Imagine that you have been tasked with the challenge of addressing the need for "culture change" within your team, department, or entire organization. I'm assuming you didn't go to graduate school in "culture change" and that you also have a lot of other stuff on your plate. Correct? I thought so. Yours is a curious challenge that will require major clarity on the front end, skillful facilitation in the middle, and meaningful follow-up on the back end.

"Corporate culture change" is a head banger. It's easy to talk about, but hard to pull off. To increase your odds of success, lower your stress, and help you navigate your way through the maze, here are seven points to consider -- a homeopathic dose of what I've learned since 1987, providing various innovation sparking services to a whole bunch of forward thinking companies. Ready? Probably not, but keep reading anyway.


1. ENSURE SENIOR TEAM ALIGNMENT/SUPPORT:
Are your key stakeholders on board about the culture change effort? Are they all on the same page? Are they willing to make a different kind of effort in order to raise the odds of the effort sustaining over time? Too often, "culture change" is a can kicked down the road. Senior Leaders, if they are really serious about seeing meaningful change, need to step up and OWN the effort more than they currently do. How this translates into action, is TBD, of course, but the effort will not sustain if your Senior Leaders are simply delegating their responsibility to their direct reports. Here's my rant on the topic.

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2. LISTEN TO YOUR WORKFORCE. GIVE THEM A CHANCE TO WEIGH IN: The more the "rank and file" gets a chance to share their insights, needs, and perceptions, the better chance you have of succeeding. People usually take more responsibility for a goal/vision/challenge if they have been consulted on the front end. Also, your Senior Leaders will likely learn a lot more about the current reality of the situation if they provide a way for the people on the front lines to speak up and be heard. This can happen via focus groups, one-on-one interviews, or online polling. Here's how we do it.

3. CLARIFY YOUR HOPED FOR OUTCOMES: Imagine that your culture change efforts are a resounding success. How will you know? What will be different? In what ways will you quantify progress? The clearer you and Senior Leaders are about the end game, the more effective the process of getting there will be.

4. FRAME YOUR CHALLENGE ACCURATELY: Can you phrase your goal/challenge/problem as a question that starts with the words "How can we?" If you can't, take some time to get the right question. Then check in with other key stakeholders and see if your HOW CAN WE question is the same one that they think is the issue. If not, tawk amongst yourselves until you can agree on what the REAL question is. And, if there is more than one question/challenge/problem on the table, so be it.

5. DECIDE ON THE RIGHT MIX OF PEOPLE TO MEET: If you have 150 people in the soup, what are the sub-groups that make the most sense to be participate in the same, real time session? All 150 at once? Two sessions of 75? Three sessions of 50? Five sessions of 30? Size matters. So does the mix of people in the room. Assuming that all groups go through the same process, what groupings of people make the most sense -- and over what period of time?

6. CLARIFY YOUR FOLLOW UP STRATEGY: If you want your culture change efforts to sustain, start thinking about how your real-time sessions are going to be followed up. Will people be working in small teams on specific projects? Will there be any accountability? Will selected managers be expected to coach and/or monitor/acknowledge progress? Does it make any sense to offer people an online innovation-sparking curriculum? Also, it may make sense to establish an Innovation Council to keep things moving forward.

7. IDENTIFY YOUR BUDGET: Ah... the "B" word! How much money does your company have to invest in your TBD change process? This number will determine which of the above-mentioned variables get attended to or not -- and how deeply. NOTE: These days, I use the Gordian Knot One Sword Stroke approach, instead of endless proposal writing -- wasting your time and mine, here's an alternative approach: You tell me what your budget is. I tell you what Idea Champions can do within those budgetary constraints. Simple.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at November 30, 2017 02:53 PM

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