If You Want Real Change, Then Start With…

changeboardIf you want real change, then start with culture.

Let me run some if/then suppositions by you:

  • If you want to change your business model, then you need to change your culture.
  • If you want to build an online community, then you need to change your culture.
  • If you want to redesign your membership model, then you need to change your culture.
  • If you want headquarters and the components to work in true partnership, then you need to change your culture.
  • If you want to make a bold strategic move, then you need to change your culture.
  • If you want to restructure so you can better serve your marketplace and your customers, then you need to change your culture.

Now, before you try to stop me with the “Hey Mr. Culture Consultant, just because you have a hammer, that doesn’t make everything a nail” argument, let me explain. I know culture is a bit of a complex animal, but there is a core principle that is flatly true for every organization. Organizational culture boils down to what is truly valued. What we value in our culture gets rewarded and supported. What we don’t value is pushed away (fired, ostracized, criticized, rejected, ignored). When there is alignment between what is valued and what drives our success, then we have an organization with a strong culture, and organizations with strong cultures attract the best employees, the most loyal customers, and the most supportive partners.

And here’s another basic truth: at some point, your organization will need to change. The schedule isn’t always predictable, and there are certainly times when organizations can chug along without a whole lot of major change going on. But eventually (and sooner rather than later these days, if you ask me), you’ll hit something like the changes listed above. You’ll realize that your local branches are operating in a model that doesn’t work well any more. You’ll realize that your business model isn’t cutting it. You’ll realize that you need to engage your customers or members online or in social networks in ways you haven’t before. 

And at that point, you’ll probably forget about culture, because you’ll be so focused on the big change. This is understandable. It’s hard to mobilize everyone around a new business model or strategic move, for example, so it will occupy a lot of your attention. But big changes like that always end up shifting what is valued internally. Change means new behaviors and paying attention to new things, and (sometimes more importantly) NOT paying attention to some old things. That’s all about what is valued, so it’s about your culture. If you make the big change and don’t adjust your culture’s emphasis on what is valued, the change will fail.

This is why leaders need a fundamental understanding of their own culture and a basic competence in culture change. You don’t have to work on your culture all the time, but you have to be ready to work on your culture at any time, so all of that other important work you do as a leader actually works. If you’re at all fuzzy about what your culture is (or should be), then now is the time to get caught up.