Change is inevitable. Get ready to lead it!

Leadership is about leading. Also, when you need to lead into change. Or is leadership nothing else than facilitating change? Whichever way you choose to look at leadership, leading change is one of your most challenging and, at the same time, essential tasks.

Change requires a culture where change is possible.

When team members don’t do what (or how) you want them to do, you send them off to a training. Teach them how to give feedback, for example. The illusion is that this will solve the problem. Typical length of the effect of such a training: 2 days. After that everyone continues on the same foot as before the training. Why? One of the reasons is that the new way of working is contrary to the current organizational (or team) culture. This new way isn’t the way we’re used to working with each other . . .

What Organizational Culture Is

To begin: what organizational culture isn’t. Beautifully-worded publications on the intranet on what the organizational culture is, are generally what the organization would like the culture to be. The same goes for codes of conduct. Organizational culture is that which happens in the day-to-day reality within the organization. It’s the generally accepted manner of dealing with one another and everything to do with the organization. Everything coworkers say and do is steeped in what the actual organizational culture is. Or to put it simply: stated culture is seldom actual culture. And if your actual organizational culture doesn’t embrace change, it’s the culture that’s the problem. It’s the culture that needs to change.

Take a simple issue (with huge consequences) for example: when there’s a problem, everyone covers their own back and sees who they can blame for the problem. This is the way things are done, and therefore the culture. Who can you still trust if this is the way things are done? This culture makes for an unsafe environment; it’s anxiety-based, problems are avoided, and energy is expended on things that don’t solve the issue.

What you want is openness, a safe environment, and a place where people trust the competence of their coworkers. And that trust means that, when a problem arises, you are allowed to call for help. Even if it’s nothing else than a mistake you’ve made (and: coworkers are human and thus make mistakes). And the reaction from (coworkers in) the organization needs to be: how can we support you? What is necessary to solve the issue at hand?

What’s needed is a culture of support, learning and development: a change culture.

Create a Change Culture

A change culture begins with allowing coworkers to learn and develop (basic requirements for change). And changing your culture begins from the top-down. You as the leader must be the first to live the change you want to see in the organization.

When a problem is brought to your attention, you lead by example – for example, by saying that you downright don’t care who’s to blame. By saying you want everyone involved to get together, and by example showing you’re interested in how coworkers can support each other (and how can you support them) in order to solve the issue. By stating that if there’s anything to learn from this issue, the learning process is part and parcel of solving the issue at hand. Thereby, you lead the change culture by supporting change through learning and development.

Note: This post originally ran on the Lead Change Group site on the 9th of April, 2019.

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