Changing the business culture from within
In Business culture parts 1 – 4, I write about the process when one is in a new assignment, or is coming into a business from outside. This part looks at how to approach this when one is incumbent in a role and change is needed, or a change has occurred in one’s responsibility.
In many respects, this is actually a more difficult task as your team knows and understands you. You have to find a way for them to accept your new idea and way of working. I’ve spoken about credibility, trust and character in other posts; here I assume that you possess a degree of each of these attributes.
First allow me to discuss what it is we are trying to achieve. In “Maslow terms” (Abraham, 1908-1970, please see link below), you will be taking the step from stage four of his renowned pyramid to stage 5, which inevitably leads to stage 2. Now, this may sound like business mumbo jumbo but in my experience this is exactly how the process works. You will be asking your team, who endow you with the esteem, respect etc., that you’ve built up over time, to follow you on a new path; this will potentially move them out of their comfort zone and could easily threaten your security and theirs.
In every case where I have been established in a role and I have instigated change, something (or someone) has triggered in me a desire to change the status quo; has acted as the stimulus, inspiration or impetus for change.
My earliest recollection of this happening was my first supervisory management course, where the teachings of the basic principles of management evolved as a blossom in my infertile mind. This was my first moment of realisation that change was needed, it was an epiphany; my stimulant had found me. What had happened here was a change in my own beliefs and the education was about to change my behaviour, the cycle that I describe in parts 1-4 began (although I didn’t actually know this at the time).
Now I knew where I wanted to be, the education had identified what I wanted and the new management skills provided the method for how I was going to implement change. Here is a relatively simple example of the process, as the stimulus in this case was training but this did happen, I took this inspiration and I became the catalyst for change in my department (I had two reports, this wasn’t a big department).
In other cases the business direction may change, due to whatever external circumstance and you have to find the stimulation. My career has spanned the era where companies have moved from the hierarchical to the altruistic in organisational terms. Over that period I have seen the advent and prominence of various business directives, two of note being quality and the environment.
Early in my career, I was working as a lower level department manager when quality standards began to proliferate within manufacturing businesses. I found myself doubting the effectiveness of this “system”; my attitude was one of, “why should I have to document everything? This will only reduce my output and stifle productivity”. The protestations of a junior department manager meant very little, this was a business decision, the implementation was inexorable.
After taking a mature look at this and realising that my lack of belief and my negative behaviour toward the system would result in my department’s failure, I decided that I needed to find something; my stimulus. I found it in the origins of the standard (although, in researching this article in some detail, I have since discovered the “fact” that I believed and used as my stimulus was entirely false but never mind, it served a serendipitous purpose at the time) and I used this to convince my team, as much as I was convinced, in the benefits of implementation.
In another example: in the early to mid ‘80’s, scant regard was paid toward environmental awareness and good practice within small manufacturing companies. As with the quality standard, the perceived negatives of excess time and documentation associated with compliance outweighed the unconvincing benefits, not even the large corporations had yet cottoned on to how to use their environmental credentials as a positive marketing strategy.
At the time, I was a company director in a small manufacturing business and the young, rather visionary MD wanted the business to become a vanguard for environmental standards in our industry. We were only a small business but this objective meant big aspirations, if we could achieve the required standard, then it would coerce the corporations to take an introspective and follow suit. This needed a culture change; I had the desire to change, I understood the benefits and now I needed to transition that stimulus to everyone else in the business, I needed to be the catalyst.
At the outset the employees weren’t aware of the strategy of the company yet they were key to its success, they had to completely buy-in to the objective, otherwise our admirable objective would fail. We needed to pass audits and achieve international standards, standards that many, better funded businesses had decided were not a priority. In this case I used a technique that I term the “what’s in it for me” factor, I needed to find something that struck a chord with everyone and then allow them to be an integral part of the implementation.
In this case, I used the local media. We were embarking upon a strategy that would elevate this relatively small business to a European audience, therefore the local media certainly had an interest in what we were trying to achieve. I met frequently with the workforce, communicating to them what we were setting out to achieve; I told them how it would impact their professional lives, that the media would be taking an interest in them and then we started what was, in effect, our campaign.
Before long, we had created local, regional and even national interest and had provided the answer to the “what’s in it for me” factor; recognition and status. Through on site press visits, subsequent articles, seminar keynote speeches and even a radio piece by yours truly, we had the catalyst that created the desire for change, everyone wanted to be part of the new culture and everyone bought in 100%. We had changed the beliefs and behaviours.
And here is the point; the lesson, if I may, of this article. If the desire or inspiration for change doesn’t occur as an epiphany, or it happens due to circumstances beyond your control, then find it. Find the one nugget of inspiration that will allow you to believe in the need for change, that will change your behaviour, because this is the catalyst that will allow you to implement change in your team or your business.
In a perfect Andy world, this written piece will be your inspiration, yet I am a realist, so if it only encourages you to read about Prof. Abraham Maslow and think about his theory (remember; it’s a theory, he was a Professor of Psychology, not a manager or practitioner of management) then I have done my job.
© Andy Collinsson 2020