Why do cultural changes fail? The 3 most common pitfalls

Why do cultural changes fail? The 3 most common pitfalls

You want to create change, your team wants to evolve, everyone talks about it. Flexibility, agility, growth, innovation, customer centricity… the concept in your mind is clear. You design a plan and you try it, but things don’t go as you would like! What happened? Why has cultural change failed once again?

Desire and purpose are the first step, but without action, there is no transformation. A Mindset shift is critical to be successful in this transformation. Many leaders already know this. However, expectations are high and despite the enthusiasm, materialising change isn’t a short-term, easy project. When we talk about transformation, pace, depth and consistency are critical. We have to learn to deal with anxiety and overcome the most common pitfalls. Cultural change falls short most of the times in people’s words, and in this post, I am going to share the reasons why and three pillars to work on in order to make it better next time.

“Without action, there is no transformation”.

Fran Cherny

Why do cultural changes fail?

After more than fifteen years’ experience consulting, facilitating and intervening in cultural transformation processes, I’ve identified three common pitfalls that trap most managers during the process of change. 

My aim in this article is to share and discuss how these pitfalls emerge and suggest three concrete solutions that could help to avoid them.

1| Pitfalls of cultural change: Trending topics to “trending habits”

The first pitfall is following trending topics instead of creating “trending habits”.

Cultural change is a current trend, and I really love this! But trends can also become a problem. For example, whenever I teach the victim-player mindsets that many large organisations are trying to implement, everyone recognises the need to become more of a player; to focus more on solutions and on what we can control rather than on limiting factors. When I explain how to operate in a growth mindset and focus on our never-ending capacity to do better, management teams are usually instantly willing to embrace it. The benefits are evident to all. However, if we only become enamoured with the concept, we can easily fall into the trap of missing the factor that is key to making these new mindsets work in practice.

When mindsets are taught without creating a context in which they can blossom, as well as an activity system that translates them into habits, they will easily dilute. Instead of loving the process, you will only love the concept but still believe that you might be adopting the mindset already just by talking about it. Our brain may create a complacent story which then makes it harder to deconstruct the false mentality.

I can teach any new mindset and the behaviours that express it perfectly in a two-hour slot (even in a 10-minute slot!), from a conceptual perspective, and with some time for practice. However, the learning process is far from complete if we don’t properly understand how to incorporate these concepts into our daily routines, and therefore don’t properly practise it either.

How do we become the person who “naturally” (meaning more automatically) brings this mindset alive? To make this happen, it is key to focus on the one thing that happens in organisations all the time: conversations through a variety of different channels. What do we do every day? We think, discuss, negotiate, commit, and deliver something. We are in meetings, writing emails, or exchanging instant messages all day, and when we’re not talking to someone, we’re talking to ourselves (as you are doing right now, while reading these words). The quality of these thoughts and conversations and the way in which they happen are an asset or a liability to how corporate culture is built and shaped.

Cultural change programmes have more chance of success when we include concrete habits that introduce the new mindsets into conversations and meetings as key devices. Without them, cultural change will fail. An example of this in most organisations is how changing the way we set the agenda of a meeting can be a simple, but powerful, tool to improve coordination and make commitments and accountability much clearer and more transparent. Also, discussing together at the end of a meeting what we could have done better during the meeting can be, for example, an effective way of applying the learner mindset. Therefore, this avoids the unhealthy habit of judging the quality of the meeting afterwards in the hallway, a common vice that boycotts the group’s learning process and feeds the ‘Inner Knower’ in ourselves.

In short, in order to make change happen, we need to turn a mindset into a habit, and a habit into a mindset. Creating this virtuous cycle is key to helping new mindsets take root and making cultural transformation a powerful lubricant for business growth and innovation.

“We need to turn a mindset into a habit, and a habit into a mindset”.

Fran Cherny

2| Pitfalls of cultural change: being one step ahead in order to lead change

The second pitfall is not the design of change programmes, but the behaviour of those who lead them.

The problem is as follows: A manager of an organisation implements a programme to equip a team with a new mindset, to create a change and improve things. The programme is led by people with good intentions, but who still might be operating with the old mindset.

Let me give you another example: A leader wants to create a pilot test to train a management group to be more innovative and agile. The process will encounter a number of setbacks, which is to be expected with most new programmes. While this is not a problem per se, what I have observed many times is that the leader quickly focuses on who created the setback, who is to blame, and even considers cancelling the programme if people don’t fully ‘like it’ or get on board. This is exactly the opposite of what being innovative and agile means.

By adopting these defensive attitudes, managers and leaders miss a great opportunity to start changing the culture “on the job” by assuming responsibility and taking corrective action while running the pilot test. Or even better, by acknowledging that they might not know how to solve some of the issues and therefore share the problem with the group to search for solutions in a process of collective learning and cooperation. The way we run a pilot test is also by talking about the culture we have versus the one we want.

In short, leading change from the perspective of the old mindset and behaviours can never really work. In any change programme, the process itself must be the ‘spearhead’ to break into the new mindset. In order to lead a cultural change, we, as the leaders of the process, need to be a few steps ahead in embodying the new values and sending the right signals and symbols that will inspire everyone else to follow. Cultural changes can fail but with a new mindset, you can avoid this.

“Leading change from the perspective of the old mindset and behaviours can never really work”.

Fran Cherny

Pitfalls of cultural change: fast and furious!

The third pitfall is based on an interesting paradox: In order to move fast, we need to start slow.

“Dress me slowly, I´m in a hurry”.

Napoleon

Some of the phrases I hear the most from leaders in organisations that want to embark on cultural change programmes start something like: “We need to change corporate culture; it is critical for the business”, “It is one of our top 3 priorities”, or “Changing culture is key to our future success”. Right after saying this, they complement it with one or all of the following: “We have a very limited budget and have just one shot to make it happen”, “We need this urgently, it needs to be done in the next 6 months!” and “teach us how to do it ourselves in the next few months”.

I suspect that many people reading this might not only have heard something like this before, but might also have said something similar themselves. Don’t you?

So, how does this urgency translate into the implementation of a process of change? I will illustrate the problem with an example. Recently, I was hired to implement a pilot test to help a team adopt a more innovative and agile way of working, using the learner mindset which was critical to becoming more customer-centric. Yet, at the end of the process, which they thought was going to be enough to change some very deep, engrained behaviours, the leadership team wanted to assess the success of the programme by measuring specific business outcomes, even when we were just running a pilot test to learn. They were exclusively focused on whether a certain result on sales was actually achieved rather than on the experience of adopting a learner mindset, which involves the team trying new things and approaching problems in a different way. They said they wanted to create skills that will enable this new way of working to flourish and multiply, but they were actually looking for a new magic formula.

Both learner and growth mindsets are about creating experiences that motivate teams to continue learning in an ever-evolving process. Yet, leaders seem to be more interested in cutting the programme short and grasping a tangible fixed result as soon as they can. This not only goes against the essence of the mindsets they are trying to teach, but also erodes the capacity to create the change they wanted so much in the first place.

The result of such behaviours is usually a series of never-ending pilot tests, continuous change of consulting firms in search of a ‘magic formula’, and many other attempts that fail to produce real change in corporate culture. Managers find themselves running in circles and ultimately the organisation spends much more money, time, and energy than what is actually required to make a change programme successful.

“Cultural changes fail if you don’t go for deep transformation at the right pace”.

Fran Cherny

How to avoid cultural change pitfalls

It is time for applying the player, learner, and growth mindsets to this article.

As I shared at the beginning, the first step to begin the journey of cultural change is the shift in our way of looking at things, a change in our own mindsets. But even so, cultural changes fail for the reasons listed above. Now is the time to know how to avoid these pitfalls.

I ask you, reading this, not to challenge my words by finding what is not fully true for you (I know your mind might be trying to pull you in that direction!), but to try to find situations in which these pitfalls might have happened to you, your team, or your organization, and how you can think of a different way to respond to the challenge. Is there any new thought or idea worth trying? Let me give you some advice: stop thinking of others, and just start with yourself!

Now that we have identified some of the most common issues most companies encounter, the question that arises is: Is there a way to get away from these pitfalls? My answer is yes, and I summarise my three key and simple recommendations below.

Acknowledge your biases and limitations

This is perhaps the most important and fundamental of all recommendations. As I already explained above, one of the main pitfalls that prevents real change from happening is that programmes that train teams to adopt new mindsets are led by people who still operate through an old mindset. To avoid this problem, it is essential for leaders to recognise that in many cases, they might not be fully ready to lead the process of change.

Look for support! 

Whenever you are getting into territory you haven’t navigated before, it is always a good idea to have someone around to guide, support, or advise you (or all 3 together). Someone who has no other agenda than making things happen with you. Yes, your ego might get in the way, but don’t let it win, as you will be missing an opportunity to learn, evolve and do the best for the organisation you are trying to add value to. 

Train a pioneering team

Before starting the implementation of a company-wide programme, it is very important to first train a small team within the company that fully adopts the new mindsets and that is respected by others. Once this team is attuned, the programme can then be extended to others, maintaining a commitment to follow the pioneers. In short, before sharing and deploying a big and ambitious change programme, make sure that at least a small group is one step ahead to lead the way.


Cultural changes fail for many different reasons: not practising enough, leadership behaviours, and a sense of urgency that creates anxiety. When we do it this way, it becomes a very complex project, but we can avoid the pitfalls of cultural change by applying the player, learner, and growth mindsets and the three practical recommendations that I have shared with you. When we do this, what was complex and heavy, becomes a never-ending journey with a deep sense of purpose, that will create learning, enthusiasm and change faster than you expect. 

In my next article, I will elaborate further on these three recommendations, and especially on the latter point, which I consider the most fundamental step to becoming truly successful change leaders.

Leading in challenging times: responding to the survivor syndrome & uncertainty

Leading in challenging times: responding to the survivor syndrome & uncertainty

In times of uncertainty, crisis, and an ever-growing disarray, it’s no surprise our reptilian brain—the one that goes into fight or flight mode—takes over. However, as you may know, the limbic system and its emotions have much to say, and the neocortex has a great deal to calculate, think, reflect and decide. In addition, there is a phenomenon that few recognize but is very present, which affects the ability of teams to focus and be effective: the Survivor Syndrome. 

In this article, I’m going to share with you some ideas to lead, in times like these, suggestions to face this challenge and support your employees and colleagues, activities to empower them, and practical steps you can take to shape up your team and take effective actions. Even in times of high instability and uncertainty. 

Leading in challenging times: responding to the survivor syndrome & uncertainty

What is the Survivor Syndrome?

Physical wounds are easier to heal than mental ones. During the previous crisis, many companies invested in psychological counseling and relocation of people who had been laid off. 

However, many times we forget about the survivors, people who:

  • Have to take on more responsibilities in an organization where economic or human resources are becoming scarce. 
  • Must learn to cope with some of the guilt and stress of being “chosen to stay” when others weren’t so lucky. They might feel relieved, but sometimes can’t help but wonder: “Why me and not them?”.

“There is a feeling of loss every time we need to leave the past behind, and the things we were used to.”

Fran Cherny

The organizational trauma that can result from this survivor syndrome has symptoms that are likely to be familiar to you. Some examples are:

  • Workers who have kept their jobs must work overtime in order to absorb the tasks of their former co-workers. 
  • Employees (who feel guilty) keep in touch with ex-employees (who can’t find work).
  • Employees try to prevent layoffs by taking a cut on their pay or other benefits.
  • Some feel they can be next, so they resist the measures

Ignoring this problem can have consequences, since the remaining employees will be the ones dealing with the crisis. And the question is: Are they emotionally, physically and mentally prepared to do their best? Guilt, stress and fear can influence their abilities, paralyze them and prevent them from being at their best.

How to rise up to the challenge and support your employees to help them be their best?

In these circumstances, stress (hoping that what is happening isn’t really happening) is very present in companies at all levels, and in every meeting and interaction. And for this reason, if the issue can’t be properly approached, we can unconsciously drift towards old recipes and habits based on fear, and choose “passive-aggressive” or “passive-defensive” positions. 

Now that we know what not to do, I’ll show you how to face the challenge in a constructive way, leading people to be more proactive, to move forward with resilience, integrating emotions and focusing on what they can do to improve everyone’s situation:

  • Create a safe space where people can talk about their feelings, engage in constructive dialogue and develop a collaborative emotional intelligence.
  • Find out where everyone stands using empathy, compassion, without judgment, showing our own vulnerability. 
  • Figure out what they need to be at their best and help them take action for themselves.
  • Create a future together so that they feel part of the organization, not only as employees but also as solution makers.
  • Make use of new technologies so you can take swift action based on facts, not opinions.

Empowering exercise for your employees so they can build a player mindset.

Do you want to help them build a player mindset? Do you want to empower them to think on their own and take their next best step? Let’s get on it!

  1. Always keep in mind that the objective is to guide them to find their own way to be effective with the tasks they have ahead, to gain confidence, and to feel good about themselves in such difficult times.
  2. Your emotional state and intentions are really important. Stay humble and caring.
  3. Start by validating their point of view without imposing yours, so they can gain confidence. Work on your empathy. Listen without judging. Show your understanding and compassion for what they feel they can and cannot do.
  4. Ask empowering questions: “If you had a magic wand, what would you want to happen now?” and “What can you do about it?”. A) “Based on what you have imagined, what is under your control?” “What can you influence?” “Is there anything you can do now to start moving in that direction?” B) “Is there anything you can ask anyone?” “Do you need to make any requests?”
  5. Moving from ideas to actions: Help them commit to a first step. “What could be your next move that you would commit to try?” “When will you try it?” “Can I support you in any way to try this?”

How to plan the future in the face of uncertainty?

How can we create a future together when we are still living in uncertainty and growing disarray? Can we plan and create a vision if we are yet to know how to adapt to recent changes? How can we help our team members overcome anxiety and find a path that’s beneficial to everyone?

“Planning for a future in crisis has never been more challenging or important.”

Fran Cherny

And because of that, we must change our paradigm.

I’ll show you how to create a roadmap with your team on how to do it, but keep in mind that you will have to do the exercise again and again depending on the frequency on how quickly things change (currently it’s about 60 days, given the level of disruption we have). 

  1. Understand and align common assumptions. Ask your team: “What do you think will happen in the world in the next 3 months that will affect our business?”. Allow them to discuss common assumptions that will put them to work in the same direction.  
  2. Common assumptions in task teams: Analyze how the assumptions will affect each team’s work. “How will it affect and what should you do differently to address it?”
  3. Linking our team’s needs to our leadership approach: If the team needs to do some things differently, we need to think quickly about what we need to do to make it happen. The key question is: “What should I do differently in the next two weeks to support my team and make quick changes?”

Leadership is the key to transformation, you have to #LeadToTransform

Fran Cherny

Just remember, you are the main lever to get your team up and running quickly. Leadership is the key to transformation, you have to #LeadToTransform (my motto). By doing this exercise with your team, you will provide direction, a clear sense of alignment and you will also contribute to the common strategy. You will move from uncertainty to action and help everyone feel part of the solution. Are you ready to start?

In short, the Survivor Syndrome is a threat often hidden in organizations in times of crisis and uncertainty, at times when we need everyone to do their best to move forward. You may think you have bigger problems, but what could be a bigger problem than the people in your organization not doing their absolute best to come out of the crisis together?


To delve deeper into these topics, you can read the Survivor Syndrome post series on Axialent’s website:

The Moment of Truth

The Moment of Truth

The opportunity

This is not an article written with the intention to judge what is good or bad, right or wrong. I am writing this to challenge us all on how we and the people around us, even our team and organization, are responding to the current situation. I think now is the time to move away from practical advice and take this to a deeper level of individual reflection and collective consciousness. Because we either all get out from this together and united, or many people and businesses will go under, creating a huge impact that will probably take years to recover from. 

Many of the leaders I work with think that the time to “work on” culture, and how to better live according to our declared values, is “when we have time for it”. Let me tell you, loudly and clearly: there is no better time to move your culture towards your declared values, than a challenging situation or crisis! People are watching you now more than ever at a deep subconscious level. Culture is not only what you say at corporate events and in official emails, but what you do, and above all what you do in difficult circumstances. Culture is built through the messages you send every day to show people what you really value.

This is the moment of truth

Yes, this is the time. Not when things are going as expected. How you respond will show your values and culture in action. This is the moment to take action and be aligned with the best version of yourself, your team and your organization. This is the time to raise your hand and bring consciousness and positive actions to any ecosystem you belong.

In the past few days, I’ve seen many ways in which people, organizations and governments are responding to the Covid-19 situation. I’ve seen great examples of responses; where organizations and governments are trying to create solutions for the people they are responsible for. From public funds being provided to support the most impacted people, to companies creating new policies to deal with never before seen challenges for their customers, and there have also been many individual demonstrations of support. This is great! 

On the other hand, I’ve also seen many others becoming, from my point of view, more “self-protecting”. They are only focusing on the impact on them. Even if we believe we are doing great, we run the risk of becoming unconscious of the bigger picture. Sometimes we become disconnected from what we have stated and shared; we start functioning more and more on autopilot. I see people in organizations doing things because “I was told to” without challenging whether those requests are aligned or not with who we want to be and our declared values. 

In the last decade or so, organizations have been talking more and more about being conscious of their impact on the environment (which is not just being “greener”!). They have been talking about the need for true “partnerships” and stakeholder integration (taking care of all their value chain, not just shareholders). Organizations have been sharing in the media, and with their employees, values like “empathy”, “responsibility”, “innovation”. The news has been full of statements from CEOs with one or more of these words. Will they leverage this crisis to show how they really do this? Will they be able to look at the bigger picture beyond themselves?

We, as individuals, have been sharing with friends and colleagues what our values are. We all declare things like empathy, respect, freedom of choice, love, among others. If you think of yours something similar, virtuous and positive will come up for sure.

So, the question now is, how are we acting in accordance to these values in the current situation? And let me share once more, the intention of this article is to challenge us to pause and reflect on where we are not living in alignment, and how this could be contributing to possible future problems. This is an invitation to us all to learn new ways in which we can show up as our “best version”, as individuals, through the team we belong to or lead, and through the organization we work at. Will each of us be able to look at the bigger picture beyond ourselves?

Creating alignment

I hope that if you are still reading, you may already have some ideas on how to challenge yourselves to do this. In case it helps, I want to share some of the things that come to my mind as critical actions to take that can help all of us grow as a community.

1. Accept

It might help to start with acknowledging, observing ourselves, becoming aware of any emotions this situation may trigger in us. Fear? Victimization? Opportunity? Only by accepting what is happening, and how we feel about it, can we find a way forward. And if we all do it from a place of gratitude for what we have, if we can focus on how we can respond to make this the best possible situation and what we can learn, I can assure you it will be much easier.

2. Go back to our desired culture and value statements

Take some time with yourself to write down what your values are. How you would like to be seen and recognized by others. This reminds each of us who we are as our “best self”.

If you lead a team (or as a member of it), it’s the time to do the same exercise with your people. Think what are our values as a team and as an organization, and what we should stand for. This is the time to show the way and change the culture for the good.

Create a time to discuss and align on concrete actions to start doing as a team, and what should be stopped.

3. Speak up

Can you help step-up the conversation by raising the difficult topics and inconsistencies? In the last few years, many people and organizations have put “courage” at the core of their behavioral needs, to be more innovative, to test and learn new ways of doing things. This is the best time to practice! What if everyone practiced having the courage to challenge the status quo?

How can we create the time, space and the psychological safety for people to speak up and share the things we might not be seeing that we can do better? What if we all use this situation to practice at each family dinner, in each team meeting, in each small online chat; what we can do differently?

This is a great opportunity to make “courage” and “innovation” part of our culture, and not to wait for the “good times” to do so. That could be too late.

4. Solidarity!

Even if it’s not written as one of your declared values, this is the only way out: Solidarity! Angela Merkel shared this word last week and it got me thinking. Most governments where trying to avoid shutting down activities because of the enormous impact on the economy in general, and mainly on the small and medium businesses where the majority of people work.  But now, with the actions that have been decided for public health reasons, there is no way to avoid the huge impact this will have. The big question now is whether small and medium businesses can be resilient and stay afloat, with the impact of this outcome affecting millions of workers and all the value chains associated.

If you have tickets for a concert (as I do, for at least 2 in the next 2 months) and you ask the organizers to reimburse you instead of waiting and allowing them to reschedule for a later date, you might be contributing to a financial crisis that will impact people around the globe. Yes, every action generates a domino effect in a global economy. And this is the time for us to think beyond ourselves. We will find a way forward, together, and those who do not honor our trust will be impacted in the future. The most important monetary exchange we have is not money, but trust.

In my years working at NGOs, I learned that solidarity is not giving away what we don’t need anymore, but sharing what we have, whatever that is. Solidarity in difficult times is the main asset we have to gain trust and support.

Don’t we have a moral and ethical responsibility in difficult times to use our strength and power to support those in our community who are most vulnerable? What would we do at home for our family in a natural disaster situation? We would take care of the kids and the elderly first, those who need it most. We are in one of those situations now.

So, will you ask for your money back from the theatre? How will you support your employees? And people who might have had temporary work with you for a peak season that will now not happen? Will you ask that little hotel you were going to stay at on vacation or where you were going to hold an event for a full refund, or there is any way in which you can keep the reservation for a later date? There are hotels that have an outlook of only 5% occupation for weeks or even months, artists who will not perform in a theater for a while, and these are just a few examples of something that is reality in many different industries and will affect all their value chain. So, what can we do to be part of the solution?

I don’t have the answers and I don’t know what is possible for each of us and each business. What I do know is that we either take care of each other or we are contributing to the economy collapsing.

One great outcome of starting to think and act this way is that we become more connected. Yes, we are still only one phone call away, and sometimes just reaching out and asking “How are you dealing with all this?”, “Can I help you in any way?” and really engaging in these conversations and taking some small but still significant actions, is a way to share that you really matter to me. You. Your loved ones. Your business. Our togetherness.  

This is a great opportunity, in times in which we could find excuses to be more isolated and disengaged from each other, to connect with our humanity and the best versions of ourselves.

Are you up for the challenge? This is the moment of truth.

This article originally appeared in LinkedIn.  

Three Antidotes to Face Disruption

Three Antidotes to Face Disruption

In my previous article, I described how I understand disruption and the three main “viruses” or challenges I see organizations face when dealing with accelerated change. Regardless of the kind of industry, size of business or location, our experience shows us that disruption impacts individuals and organizations in the way you live, the way you engage with others, and the way you do business.

  • The three viruses I spoke about were:
    Lack of responsibility or ownership to respond and the speed with which we act. We call this the “victim” mindset.
  • Lack of curiosity, openness and acceptance of the status quo. We call this the “knower” (or “fixed”) mindset.
  • The dangers of multitasking and not valuing the power of focus on a single task at a time. We call this the “multitasker.”

Below you will find the “antidotes” or mindsets to fight the viruses.

The player mindset focuses on your capacity to respond when facing a challenging situation, your “response-ability” — the shift in focus from what is out of your control to what you can control. It is present and future focused, while “victims” are often stuck in the past and attached to “this is how we’ve always done it.” The intent is to solve the problem at hand with agility and speed instead of pondering the past and looking for blame, which is counterproductive.

The learner mindset is the capacity to acknowledge that what we see and interpret is hinged on what we are capable of seeing based on our own story, beliefs and how we make meaning of the world around us. There are many different perspectives and a wide range of opportunities that arise once we open up with a humble attitude that allows us to learn new things. That way we can detach from the stories we tell ourselves and don’t believe them as if they were the ultimate truth. When you stop trying to prove others wrong, opportunities will appear for you to find an effective solution. The aim is to find a solution for the organization to be as effective as possible, not trying to be right.

Focus and presence is the art of paying kind attention to what is really going on. Although many people seem to think that being able to do many things at the same time is a great gift, I dare challenge that idea. I believe that it is really hard to see what is going on and embrace what is really happening unless you are fully present. There is research that shows how multitasking effectiveness is a myth because you are doing a little bit for each of the things you are working on instead of doing a lot and being fully focused on one task at a time. You cannot react fast if you don’t see the opportunities around you. I have experienced multiple leaders ask me, “How the hell didn’t I see this coming?” But deep down they knew the issue was always there. When we lose focus, we miss what leaders are supposed to see, what others don’t. Practicing our capacity of staying in the present moment seems easy, but it is not simple. I would take the risk of saying that once you try it, you’ll realize how much richness and clarity it brings.

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So how can you start applying and making this happen?

  • Speak in the first person, own your opinions and emotions (and reactions to ideas), and recognize that you are the one who owns what you think and feel.
  • Invite others to express what they think and feel, and find what is right in it. “Make people right before you make them wrong.”
  • Make sure that you put in leadership meeting agendas a section on “what we might be missing” and “what can go wrong.” Allow people to brainstorm about this and see what emerges.
  • If after reading this you still think multitasking is useful and it is better than focusing on a single situation at a time, I invite you to watch this two-minute video and check if this doesn’t happen to you. Unless you start thinking in this way, it would be hard to create any change.
  • You need to develop these skills, as we have often learned the opposite. Incorporate a “pause” from time to time throughout the day, especially before important meetings. Did you ever try the power of one-moment meditations? Try this and see how effective “the power of pause” could be.

As you can see, building a more agile, disruptive and innovative organization requires us to challenge our mindsets and practice new skills we might not have developed yet. But if you want to see the change happening, you would need to take the first step. Are you up for it?

 

Transcription

The first one is what we call the knower, the second one is what we call the victim, and the third one is what I would call the multitasker, let’s say. I know that multitasker, multitasking for many people means a good thing. I will put it in a way that I’m not sure about that.

And the opposite of that is the player, the learner and what I would say is the focus, being focused on what’s going on right here, right now. What that mainly means for me is, the protagonist player, mainly means focusing on what you have under your control to solve any problem, to solve any situation, focus on your capacity to respond, your ability to respond to any situation that you have. Stop blaming other, stop thinking what happened in the past, really focus on how are you gonna respond to a challenge because that’s gonna be the fastest way to address the issue that is emergent.

The second one that is, the learner, it’s mainly seeing things in a way that you don’t believe your own stories. In whatever you’re seeing in the world, whatever possibilities you are seeing, adjust your stories, what you are capable of seeing. Now, there might be a lot of other stories and possibilities that you didn’t see so far.

So, just having that way of thinking will create huge opportunities for everyone. So, just imagine an organization where people are not trying to prove them right and prove others wrong, but really try to think what’s the most effective response to any situation.

And the third one for me, is it’s very hard to see what really is going on. If we are with two devices at the same time in the previous conversation that I was completely stacking my mind with that, I’m not really focused on the conversation that I’m having right here with you.

Disruption, Are You Ready for It?

Disruption, Are You Ready for It?

Disruption here, disruption there, disruption everywhere…It’s the new buzzword, but what does it really mean?

I define disruption as the speed in which change happens, the acceleration it takes, and how fast it impacts other parts of the system. “The butterfly effect at the speed of light” — it alters the way you live, the way you engage with others, and the way you do business.

Disruption can be a threat to your business if you are the “disrupted” (think about Uber toppling the taxi and transportation industry), or it can be an advantage if you are the “disruptor” (at least, for some time). There have been many articles written about disruption, but I have found very few that talk about how to respond to it (especially if others depend on you as a leader).

Let’s refer to  the iceberg model from one of my previous articles 

We believe the key to be able to respond to disruption is to look at our consciousness at the “being” level — gaining awareness of how we respond, when we are triggered or reactive, and how to recover faster when we are being triggered; identifying the triggers and consciously choosing how we will respond when new situations emerge. We will be tempted to think we know the answer, but we might be facing a problem we had not encountered before.

We need to be resilient (defined as the ability to recover faster and faster) at the “being” level in order to face and respond to disruption, as our egos will be challenged and at risk. How can you build a culture of resilience in your organization where egos or attachment are not getting in the way? Prepare your leaders and employees to face any situation they might encounter.

We will discuss three different “viruses” we see in organizations that work against building this resilience and the ability to respond:

  • Lack of curiosity, openness and acceptance of the status quo. We call this the “knower” or “fixed” mindset.
  • Lack of responsibility or ownership to respond and the speed with which we act. We call this the “victim” mindset.
  • The dangers of multitasking and not valuing the power of focus on a single task at a time. We call this the “multitasker.”

Lack of curiosity, openness and acceptance of the “status quo”

“I think there is a world market for about five computers.”

— Remark attributed to Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of the Board of International Business Machines (IBM), 1943

“We don’t like their sound. Group guitars are on their way out.”

— Decca Records on rejecting the Beatles

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”

— Harry Warner, Warner Bros. 1927

What did you think when you read those statements? We can’t imagine our lives without computers. The Beatles became one of the biggest music success stories. And can you imagine movies without actors talking?

All of these examples disrupted their industries in a big way. Thankfully, there were others who believed in computers and The Beatles.

These statements all lack curiosity, which can be very dangerous. What if The Beatles had given up after speaking with Decca records?

Have you ever been in a meeting listening to the presenter and think to yourself “Wow, that will never work. What a stupid idea.”?

A good example of this is the Blockbuster story. Remember them? (Because many children today don’t!) Netflix met with Blockbuster executives to propose a partnership, but Blockbuster laughed at the idea and didn’t agree. The rest is history.

Imagine how things would have been different if they had moved away from their “fixed” mindset and had been open to the partnership.

It is very easy to shut down others because we have a belief. That’s why the “knower” is a very dangerous mindset to be in. We believe our own opinion is the truth. We have been telling ourselves stories all our lives, but the danger comes when we start to believe our stories and are no longer open for other ideas to emerge.

Lack of responsibility or ownership to respond, and the speed with which we act

“Mommy, the toy broke.”

“The milk spilled.”

“He started it.”

For those who have children, you are probably very familiar with these statements or can think back to your own childhood. Now read the statements again. How do you think the toy broke? Who spilled the milk? Who started it? These are exactly the same as:

“The project got delayed.”

“The previous meeting ran late.”

“Accounting didn’t get me the report.”

On a bigger scale, this turns into a blame game, where the focus is on who created the problem. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a good example of the different parties not wanting to take responsibility for what happened. And that became a PR disaster.

Blaming external circumstances for something that occurred without you being part of it or having any ownership in it might be a good short-term strategy to keep your ego safe, but it will not help your business at all in the long term.

While you are all discussing whom to blame, someone is looking for the solution you need, and they will probably beat you to it.

This level of complacency can put your organization at a disadvantage.

The dangers of multitasking

In 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

During daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers use their cellphone while driving

These numbers are very big and very concerning. We all know it, and yet we still do it. How can that be?

In organizations, multitasking has become the norm and is no longer an exception. It’s often even valued as an asset. Do you recall your last meeting? How many people were listening and at the same time looking at their phones? Have you dialed in for a conference call and at the same time responding to emails?

I am afraid I have to burst your bubble. Multitasking might be very good for some things, but you can’t apply it to everything. Effective multitasking is a myth and also very counterproductive.

Take driving for example. At any given time, we need to focus on the road ahead, look in the rearview or side mirrors, control our speed, apply the right amount of pressure to the gas pedal, and maybe even look at the GPS for direction. We may have mastered this art, but adding talking on the phone, texting or having an argument with another passenger in the car is where you push the limit and it becomes counterproductive.

When does your multitasking go too far?

But what next?

My invitation to you is to reflect on these three viruses:

  • Do you observe yourself displaying any of these behaviors? What about people around you?
  • Can you think of any situation in which displaying these behaviors impacted people negatively or hurt the business?

In the next article, we will unpack the antidotes to each of these viruses.

Three Key Ingredients to Transform Your Culture

Three Key Ingredients to Transform Your Culture

There are many ways to change a culture in an organization, but the actual transformation comes from its people doing something different, adopting new behaviors, changing the way they have conversations and how they interact with each other.

In order to change something, we need to understand how it’s created, shaped and influenced. There are three influencers that drive culture: behaviors, systems and symbols.

Behaviors

“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”

 Ralph Waldo Emerson

Most organizations have values and a mission posted on their website. They are presented to the organization in a beautiful way. However, those become obsolete if the leaders and key influencers do not role model those values. People in the organization will copy the behaviors of their leaders in order to be like them and create a sense of belonging, with the belief that the display of those behaviors will help them fit in and be successful. We learn this by looking around, mainly toward our leaders. What behaviors helped elevate them to the top? All become symbols, which we will discuss later. By themselves, behaviors are one of the most powerful tools leaders have to design and change the culture. If leaders and the key influencers can change their own behaviors by living more aligned to the values declared, people would get it faster.

If you notice as a leader that people are not displaying the behavior you would like to see in the organization, you need to first look at yourself and ask: “What am I doing (and my colleagues) that might cause others to believe it is the right behavior?” The interesting thing is, we are all leaders or an example to someone else in the organization. So in the end, we can all do something about it. I know, I know…you might be wondering why it all goes back to you. Remember the Player mindset: “If it affects you, it’s your problem.” The question is: How can you respond to the challenge?

Do you recall the secret change agents from the previous article? Understanding how behaviors influence the culture is a great way to create change.

How can you role model the behavior you would like to see in the organization?

Systems

These are related to all the processes you have in place in your organization. Some might be based on historical decisions and others might be more recent or born out of necessity. How is success in the organization measured, and how is it reported? What HR processes are in place, how is compensation defined, and what is the bonus scheme based on? How is budget allocated? These are all examples of systems at play. Systems are deeply ingrained in an organization and can be difficult to change. The question to change culture toward the behaviors you need should never be about the systems you currently have, but rather about the systems you will need two to three years from now. You need to stand in the future. Once you are there, look back to define the plan to get there.

Where do you see an opportunity for a systemic change in your organization to create the culture you need? If you had a magic wand:

  • How would people be rewarded?
  • What would the process be for allocating budgets?
  • How would decisions be made?
  • Is there any other system that is critical in your organization?

 Symbols

This is the most visible and recognizable. When you walk into an office building, you can get a first sense of the culture by observing people at work, how things are organized, who is where, what you see on the walls, parking lot allocations, office spaces and how people talk to each other.

Other meaningful symbols include the way a budget is allocated, how time is invested, who is promoted and who is not, and how accomplishments are celebrated. Are they individuals or teams? What values and what results are taken into account? Does any of this sound familiar?

One of the more relevant symbols is the story or stories being shared. Like any other community (from our tribal ancestors to our current days), we often share stories about how things were created and who succeeded (even creating myths). We share stories that are funny and stories about failure. We share learnings, and many times we talk about cases and people. We create symbols, ideas, myths and a future based on history. One of the most powerful assets for culture change might be which stories are being shared in the organization. When linked with behavioral change and new systems, everything comes together, making sense to people in a faster, more effective way.

What are some of the symbols in your organization? How can this be changed toward the culture you need?

What are the main stories being told? How is this conducive to the culture you want? Which stories can start being told?

In working with a large tech company, we discovered how the behaviors, systems and symbols could be quite a force at play in an organization. One of the main goals for the year was to align the company with a new set of values and create a “one company.” We looked at all the different behaviors that would be needed or changed to align with what “one company” would look like. Increased collaboration, openness, listening and sharing are all characteristics of new behaviors. However, employees found it difficult to change, and we were curious what might be getting in the way.

The organization was heavily matrixed. Employees had multiple reporting relationships. One manager would be really good at role modeling the new behaviors, while another would revert back to his/her “old, more hierarchical” ways. A second layer was that the compensation and bonus plan was entirely based on individual performance, which created a conflict of interest. On the one hand, there was an ask for collaboration and sharing, but this would possibly put someone’s bonus at risk because sharing or collaboration might not yield the same results. Why take such a risk?

Lastly, there were some heavy restrictions on the type of computers and phones that an employee could use; yet at the same time, a lot of the leaders would have the “forbidden” equipment, which made it all very confusing.

From this example, it’s easy to see how behaviors, systems and symbols could have a significant impact on the culture of an organization — and how we need to link the three and work on all of them to create an effective culture change.

Once leaders see what we explained until now, they say, “We need a culture project!” This is something you might say in your mind. And yes, there are a lot of things you can do to influence the culture, but culture change is not just a project.

This is another strong belief or myth.

Just as the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans went before us, so did the culture of your organization. The culture was already there when you arrived, and it will continue long after you leave.

Culture is a never-ending process of defining and redefining who you are as an organization — and finding new ways to bring this alive in new contexts, with new people, addressing different challenges. You are always designing the culture, and you can do a significant amount of change in a short period of time. You might call it a project if you want to “shock” the systems to address big challenges and to get specific budget and focus. However, culture — as a concept and as a whole — will continue to evolve. It will need to be taken care of beyond your timeframe, and there will not be a day where you say, “We did it!”

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Having this mindset will change the way you think about culture change.

Some questions to think about:

  • How am I perceiving and facing the needs that culture change brings?
  • How are the leaders and the people in your organization talking about culture in general? Do they understand what it means and what it takes?
  • And what about myself when reading these words?
  • What would be the leadership behaviors, systems and symbols that are enablers for what you want and need? Which ones might be blockers?
  • What stories are being told in the organization that might be blocking your ability to change faster?

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