Accelerate Culture Change! The most asked question about culture change is how long will it take? When will we have the culture we want? A multitude of factors can influence the speed of culture change and there are things you can do to speed up the process.
First, be clear on the kind of culture you need to achieve your strategy. What values and behaviors should people to display to reach your business goals? Clear definition of what’s expected will help leaders hold staff accountable and it will help people to know whether they’re doing the right thing or not. When leaders model the same behaviors they want to see in others, the change will have a starting point. Even then, it may still take too much time for business leaders who can’t afford to wait or are experiencing pressure from shareholders.
This is where the tipping point theory comes in. It says that once the beliefs and behaviors of a critical mass of people are engaged, the new ideas or behaviors will spread like a virus, creating change at a rapid pace. In his book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell demonstrates that there are three factors for social epidemics:
The power of the few – You only need to work with a few people who will make a clear call for action, and will focus their actions on key players in the organization.
The stickiness factor – The change must make sense to people. Employees need to understand why the behaviors they’re being asked to display are going to make a difference to the business and their lives.
The power of context – Change will happen if it’s tied to business goals and people understand culture change is necessary to be successful.
Culture Change Goes Viral
Once the tipping point is reached, more and more people start adopting the new way of being and doing at an accelerated pace. The change is visible, employees become more positive, and even the naysayers are changing their minds.
Research varies as to the percentage of employees who need to behave differently for it to catch on. 35% is what is most commonly used. However, researchers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10% of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority. The minority belief becomes the majority opinion.
To accelerate change, you only need to focus on a small number of people. It’s important to develop a strategy on how to reach the tipping point. Think about which people to enroll, convince, educate and maybe which ones to not focus on? Where are they? What positions do they hold? Where do they sit in relation to the values and behaviors you are trying to shift? Are they open? Are they trusted by others?
Those Who Can Lead Culture Change
Here are some of the people you will need to consider in your strategy:
The Leadership Group
Culture change starts at the top. If leaders do not model the desired behaviors, there is little value in asking others to do so. The tipping point will not take place if only a few leaders are behaving appropriately. Look for leaders who already model traits you’re looking for and identify others who are open to change that you can work with. Bring them on board and build the tipping point within the leadership group. This is a great start.
Culture Change Champions
These are people who already model aspects of the desired culture. Enrolling them into the change process is a great way of building a community of people who are enthusiastic, understand how culture works and can join a variety of change activities such as workshop facilitation and town hall meetings.
Connectors are network builders; they’re the individuals with the shortest path to other people. They control information flow and are a liaison between tribes and teams. They are very useful in spreading the message, but because they can also be bottlenecks, you need them on your side.
These are the people whose impact is larger than their role because they are listened to or play a central role in the company. They can be receptionists, a leader everybody respects, someone who has been in the organization for years, IT people, or even maintenance people. It doesn’t matter who they are if they can play an effective role in spreading the word. Some influencers can have very little reach but have great influence within their own network. This is why they need to be considered together with connectors.
Customers and External Stakeholders
They are often forgotten, but they have a strong influence on what happens internally. Bring them with you on the journey, let them know what you’re trying to achieve, and the external pressure will contribute to the change.
More and more boards are becoming involved in the culture change journey. Some boards are directly involved in the day to day operations, others less so. However, they can all play a critical role and represent a strong symbol of what is valued. They need to embrace the new culture and support leaders in the journey.
Enlist people who are open to change. We’re often tempted to spend time on those who are reluctant to change. Don’t do it. Focus instead on those who you know will get on the boat when they see it turning.
Build your tipping point for change as you would play a game of chess: Think strategically, don’t move too fast, and analyze your pieces. Are your rooks and bishops open to change or should you focus on your pawns and knights?
Identify role models are in your organization. Find the connectors, the influencers, and those who are open to change. Craft your own way of starting and then accelerate culture change.