Change is hard.
No one likes change. Especially leaders who know change is needed in order to be more successful.
Change is not just a new set of goals, processes, workflow, or behaviors. It’s a turn in culture that starts with reassessing what’s needed to make progress.
Redefining vision, mission, goals, KPIs, and behaviors is necessary, but if the mindset and thinking of the organization aren’t addressed, even the best planned strategies will fall short of lasting change.
It can be an overwhelming feeling when you realize change needs to happen. As with everything else, leadership must not only change its processes but also its thinking to lead change.
It’s essential to start the path to real change with a renewed clarity on vision, goals, and processes, but change only starts when the organization as a whole starts to think and see differently.
So here are 9 steps to start the process of real culture change, starting with you as a leader.
First and foremost:
Admit you as a leader need to change the culture. If your organization is not where it needs to be, take responsibility. Your leadership has allowed certain behaviors to manifest and take root that has led you to where you are currently. Don’t blame, but admit your faults and determine to be accountable for the change going forward.
The road to culture change starts with you.
Reveal and/or remind the vision. Sometimes your people need to be reminded of the vision. You may also find out some were never quite aware of the mission at all (again take ownership for this shortcoming). The key is to talk up the vision so everyone can start calibrating their thinking on what the objective is.
Set the expectation. Let everyone know that they as individuals need to be on board with the vision. There should be essential (non-negotiable) behaviors that align with the culture, and flexible (negotiable) behaviors that allow people to be themselves while still operating with the cultural framework. Set the non-negotiables firmly but encouragingly.
Individually coach. Let your people know that you’ll be their biggest cheerleader and give them what they need to succeed or further grasp the renewed vision. Let them know immediately when they fall short, and show them how to get there. Ignoring behavioral shortcomings will only dilute the progress you’re trying to make, which is most likely why you ended up needing to change culture in the first place.
Hold accountable the cultural behaviors and performance. When an individual won’t engage or align themselves with change, you’ll need to take the necessary steps to correct. If they are still unwilling, then separate; you cannot risk drag factors that hold culture change hostage.
Yourself as a leader:
Be open and admit that you are changing as well. It’s easy to tell others what to do. It’s an entirely different leadership approach that shows it to your people. Let others know that you’ll be changing the culture within yourself, and that it starts with you. It sets them off of the defensive and sets you up to be the standard bearer for change.
Have others keep you just as accountable. The next necessary step after admitting you are changing as well is to allow others – everyone – from all around the organization to keep you accountable to stay the course and manifest the change within and without. When people know that there is mutual standard and they are allowed to hold everyone on the team to it, there will be more openness to allow change to occur. This prevents leaders from making the change all about others and only partially committing to it themselves.
Daily preach culture behaviors and the larger vision. Unless you are willing to start over with an entirely new team, you need to dilute and over time replace the old culture. This can only occur by focusing on the new mindset not just everyday, but at every interaction throughout the day. Conversations, emails, texts, and even external communications are essential means in which to let the new culture grow roots. The more you focus on talking about change, the deeper it grows into everyone’s mind and the DNA of the organization.
Look for willing mindsets to be culture champions. No leader can effect culture change by themselves, so you need to identify those who adopt the new mindset – the renewed vision – and allow them to positively infect the organization. Leverage their enthusiasm and the shared vision to stimulate faster, more committed change and engagement.
Once these underlying steps are in place, then the culture, goals, and strategies you’ve identified can start to take hold.
When a group of people have a common vision and commitment to make change happen, the results speak for themselves. Many books on business and history will attest to the incredible changes made when a group of people had the same vision and mindset to encourage progress and make their company, their country, or their communities better.
Leadership is about shaping mindsets that change behaviors that eventually transform a culture.
More From Paul LaRue
Paul LaRue is the creator of The UPwards Leader and Instigator for Lead Change Group. His background in senior leadership, strategic planning, culture change, and people and organizational development gives him unique insight into the workings of successful organizations. Paul has given speeches and training sessions for many public and private entities and stresses the virtue of a culture that centers around core values and character in leadership.