Creating long-lasting change

8 February 2016

Let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time in a galaxy really quite nearby there was a mighty Corporation whose name was known far and wide ruled over by Wise and Powerful Rulers. And one day the Wise and Powerful rulers saw that the People were not open and happy and trusting as they used to be in days of old and they lived in Silos.

So the Wise and Powerful Rulers summoned the Wizards of Change and the Magicians of Learning and they told the Wizards of Change and the Magicians of Learning to turn the People back into the happy, sharing, collaborative people they had been in the days of old. And lo the Wizards waved their Wands of Change and behold there was a Charter and behold there were Posters on the wall with Value Statements and behold there were Mugs saying ONE COMPANY and the Wise Leaders were pleased and the Magicians of Learning ran Workshops and the people were Engaged and Empowered. And the People said “we must be happy and collaborate like in the olden days” so the Wizards of Change and Magicians of Learning packed their bags and moved on and the people went back to their comfortable Silos and carried on as they had before.

A Fairy Story? Hmm. Culture is like gravity. We can all recognise its effect but nobody really understands how it works; it’s invisible and overwhelmingly powerful but how on earth can you change it. Well it’s probably easier than changing the effects of gravity but it can be done.

Why am I writing about this now? Because last month at Steps we had a fantastic morning at our Best of Steps event with many of our clients sharing our ideas and thinking – and one of the sessions that had a huge amount of interest was on what we call Steps to Change; what it takes to bring about lasting behaviour change.

People have to go through 4 stages – to SEE the change that is required, to OWN the responsibility for making the change in themselves, and to learn how to CHANGE their behaviour. And you’ll have spotted that that’s only 3 stages. And that’s the problem. That’s where it usually stops. The 4th stage is to LIVE the change day in day out and that is where most culture change programmes (and indeed many skills change programmes) fall down. Living it simply doesn’t happen because you’ve gone through the previous 3 stages. They are certainly necessary – but absolutely not sufficient. And the trouble is that to achieve “Live it” both the Wise Leaders and the People have to be prepared for really quite disruptive changes to their lives or, by definition, their lives will continue as before.

There are 4 main areas where the change has to happen:

reward, fame, habit and skill.

Reward: there has to be visible change in who gets promoted, who gets raises and who gets thanked. If the people who get those things are people who are doing what people have always done to get those things then don’t be surprised if people go on doing them! You have to be prepared to look seriously at performance management and related processes.

Fame: What is the story? What are people talking about? Who are the heroes? If the stories and heroes don’t change the culture hasn’t changed. Managers and leaders have to change their conversations and tell a new story. (No, not the Inhouse Magazine – the managers and leaders).

Habit: changing engrained practices is hard, really hard. But help is available – mainly through coaching – particularly workplace coaching within teams as well as for managers – along with management support.

Skills: the easiest to tackle but it does take time and practice and reinforcement. It’s one thing to learn on a workshop how to, say, give honest feedback but it’s quite another to have the words and approaches ready to use appropriately in real time (i.e. to have the skill).

So the Wizards of Change and the Magicians of Learning have a part to play but the Wise Rulers need Honest Advisors who can explain how much else will have to be done if the People are actually going to Live Happily Ever After.

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