As we referred to in our first article, culture is everywhere, just like the air we breathe. The problem is that we forgot.

The second layer to this is that we often hear that people need to “start” working on the culture. However, the culture has always been there and is continuously influenced by everyone — the way people behave, lead and manage; what leaders do (not what they say); how an organization compensates their employees; internal communications; who gets promoted; its values on the website versus what it has really done every day; the external marketing; and every single thing that lets people know “what’s valued around here.” This is all part of the culture. Culture is like a live organism; it is always evolving, moving and shifting. Whether you choose it or not, it’s there.

The question then becomes, are you going to let the culture drive you, or do you want to drive the culture and have it be more aligned with your business needs and emerging challenges?

To engage on a culture transformation journey, you will need to identify and assess the current culture. It is very important to understand where you are.

  • Did a new CEO, with a new vision and direction, join?
  • Is your CEO leaving and would like to leave a legacy?
  • Is the market steering you in a new direction?
  • Is the company growing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up?

The answers will be unique for each organization and its leaders. What is critical is to understand what’s driving the change. Why are you embarking on this journey? Why do people need to be part of this? Having a case for change is a very important first step. The second one is to understand who is ready to understand it.

Once you have identified these points, the next step is to identify your key sponsors and champions who can connect with the need. We hear it over and over again — the belief or myth — that you need to have everyone on board to start the initiative. However, it is exactly that — a belief or myth — and it gets in the way of making change happen.

In his book “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell talks about The Law of the Few. In order to create sustainable change, you need to look for the connectors, mavens and salesmen — or as Everett Rogers developed his theory on “Diffusion of Innovations,” illustrated in the bell curve below.

Both authors describe that you do not need to have everyone on board. You need to look for the innovators and early adopters in your organization. Who can you work with to start the change?

As an example of how this works, I remember when we started working with a large manufacturing organization through the HR department. The team was really eager to start working on their culture. The main concern was that not everyone in the organization was ready to engage or even talk about culture change. Together, we identified a group of middle managers who were eager to change and develop new skills and who, at the same time, had a relevant influence in the business. We co-created a specific leadership development program for them. This group became the innovators and helped us connect with the early adopters. Through their leadership journey, they learned new mindsets, skills and behaviors. And as they implemented those new skills in their way of leading their departments and teams, it influenced the culture. Others in the organization noticed how the innovators and early adopters became more effective in their jobs, were more agile in their decision-making, and their overall performance improved, and they wanted the same.

The main learning is that it is never about having it perfect and everyone on board on day one but having the right people on the train to depart.

Here are a few questions to reflect on:

  • Where can I start this journey?
  • What are some easy and simple steps I can take?
  • Who are the innovators and early adopters in my organization? Are they getting the attention they need?
  • Who is currently on my culture train and how can I leverage them?
  • Who do I want to pick up at the next station to get on the train?

Stay tuned for the next culture belief/myth: “The need to start at the top.”

Video transcription: We started this project with a leadership team from a search engine organization. He was client of ours for many, many years, and he moved his role, and he told me, Fran, I think now we are ready to do something here, because I think I need some support to change the way we are dealing with some of the issues we are facing based on the market.”

Okay. So, we have a first meeting, and then he said, “Okay, after the first session with the leadership team, I want to do something with 80 people on my team in Munich.” So, in Munich, so Silke and four other members of our team went there, and they ran a one day session … a one day and a half session … with 80 people, and then two days later, I called him and said, “Okay, so, how did it go?” He said, “Yeah, you know, I have 30 people out of the 70 who responded to my email, and they said that it was great, and it was fantastic, and, but then I don’t know what the other 40 …”

I said, “What the hell are you talking about? You’re in technology. So, how many people do you need to buy your stuff the first day, in order for you to feel that you are improving?” He says, “No, 2%. You have 40%. So, you need to go for the early adopters. Forget about having everyone in.” Because we always focus on the people who are not in, instead of focusing on the people who want to make the change happen. So, who said that everyone should be in? A change process takes the same process that any sales process.

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