create the place of most potential
Culture is a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs that often govern how people behave – and it is also a concept that largely escapes precise definition. Culture is as much about how you are as an organization as what you do. We know it’s there, we may notice we’re immersed in it, we may wonder why we feel inclined to say some things and not others, do some things and not others. The culture may be ground on which we thrive or lose parts of ourselves. It feels simultaneously like part of us and outside of us – and it is an entity unto itself. It is the stories that get told and re-told.
No wonder the thought of changing culture makes many leaders nod, smile, and inwardly long to run for cover – and the current organizational change success rate of ~15% may feed that desire. At the same time, an organization’s culture colors everything, from the talent you attract and retain, to the business you win, to the degree you innovate and position for the future. Some wonder why good people are leaving. Some find that leaders appear more outwardly diverse, yet share a similar mindset and style. Some feel they must choose between profit and people. Many notice that networks are growing, while a sense of community is not.
Leaders may feel too busy to notice or talk about culture, especially when the bottom line looks good, and that’s the definition of being stuck in a comfort zone. If leaders don’t shape and tell the story of the organization, others will.
What do you want for your organization? Will today’s culture get you there?
Consider what might happen if an organization creates the space for people to grow and flourish, to all step into their potential. To create communities where people feel safe to be themselves, where it is safe and encouraged to fail for the sake of learning, growth, and innovation. The sense of purpose and meaning that those individuals would bring to their work. The communities that would arise. The outcomes and rewards that would result for the organization. Success might become the capacity of the organization to manage its own evolution.
We believe in evolution over monikers like “culture change” because work in the space of culture takes a lot of time, trust, and support. Consider how long it takes a single individual to build a new habit. Depending on the complexity of the desired behavior and what is already ingrained, it may take months or years before the desired behavior is a habit – and that change occurs with conscious, purposeful practice.
Now consider that a culture is made up of these single individuals, all bringing unique ingrained behaviors, all accustomed to living within “how things are” even if they are not fully conscious of that fact, and all possessing brains that naturally resist change because it is how humans are wired. Oh, and that culture also takes on a life of its own.
The good news is that it is possible, and organizations improve and change all the time.
What is different about the organizations where it works? They pay attention to the leaders who will drive the change and to the rest of the people who will come to embody it. As Ken Wilber has described, change efforts often miss the critical internal components that are necessary to make a lasting difference. While they may offer training and skill development and shiny, new org charts, the human element is left struggling. Consider a line worker who is suddenly told that he will be leading a self-managed team. It may be a promotion and a lovely idea in theory – and completely removes that person from an identity and a role that he has known for years. The magnitude of such an individual transition is often downplayed, and the person is expected to “get on board” without much in the way of support. Not surprisingly, the result is often a mix of effort to comply, frustration, and resistance to the change.
Organizations where change takes hold pay close attention to the human element and begin the internal work needed to promote effective transition. They value and create the space and shared structures for performing this internal work at work, recognizing it is the fundamental and ongoing work that enables an individual to evolve and therefore a culture to evolve and shift.
These organizations also don’t change on a lark or for the sake of change. The leaders driving the change have a deeply held vision that they share, and this vision is inextricably linked to a set of values that permeate the day-to-day work of the organization and bring people together. The values reinforce the “why” behind the change that propels it forward, and they enable the organization to share a common intention and feel an emotional commitment to the path ahead.
More good news? Organizations are rarely all bad or all good. It’s not likely you need a complete overhaul. You may only need to pay close attention to what parts may need a refresh and how you begin to create that shift.
We cannot perfectly predict how things will change. We focus more on the mix of factors that will create the place of most potential for the people and the organization as a whole. Our approach to culture evolution combines facilitation and leadership coaching to connect with the human element and create the space for the internal work needed to spark broader change. Beginning with data that highlights today’s leadership culture and the desired vision, we begin a conversation about what meaningful growth and change looks like for your leadership team and organization. We stretch ingrained perspectives and create the space to envision and step into what is possible.
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