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The biggest stumbling block with culture change

Having been involved in a number of culture change efforts, a pattern keeps emerging as one of the biggest stumbling blocks. Not many people talk about it openly, either – another elephant (see What to do when people don’t want to talk about the elephant?).


Finger pointing


Working with senior leaders, they talk about how the line managers and staff behave, whether it's being passive, reactive, waiting to be told what to do, not taking initiative, inward focused, being siloed, blaming and not taking accountability etc.


Speaking with middle managers, they point to the senior leaders who don't walk the talk, micro-manage, are reactive, communicate poorly, act in silos, don't coach or listen or trust them to take accountability etc. Or they explain how staff don't take initiative, they don't understand the bigger picture, they don't collaborate etc.


Staff members then express frustration about the environment created by the leaders, that it's not safe to speak up, mistakes are punished, they have to follow prescriptive directions or processes, they are not coached, supported or trusted etc.


The content of the changes required vary from organisation to organisation, team to team, but I see a common pattern of pointing to how others need to change in order for the culture to improve.


So circular patterns get established and reinforced, the status quo is maintained.


Finger pointing is a sure fire way of keeping the current culture intact. 100% guaranteed.


In addition, the change agents, whether internal or external, can join in the finger pointing. They can talk as if they are outside the organisation and the culture. Even if we are external consultants, we influence the system just by being there so we need to watch how we interact. As change agents, do we model and reinforce the culture the organisation wants to move towards? As change agents, if we want people to blame less and take responsibility for their part, we need to role model that first and stop pointing fingers.


Organisational culture is shaped by leaders and they are reinforced by people colluding with what they believe is expected by the leaders. As Carolyn Taylor says in her book, Walk the Talk, "culture is shaped by the messages received about how people are expected to behave."


As leaders and change agents, a great starting point is to ask ourselves:

·        What am I doing that is modelling what we don't want?

·        What am I doing that is reinforcing or even encouraging what we don't want?


It takes everyone to take responsibility for their part in maintaining the status quo.


Related articles:

Sweat the small stuff in leadership

High Achievers, Beware!


The problem with obsessing about cultural ‘fit’

Megumi Miki is a leadership and culture specialist, with practical keys to unlocking dormant potential within individuals and organisations.

Author of “Start inspiring, stop driving,” she expands leaders’ mindsets and skill-sets to inspire diverse talents to flourish. Her work supports leaders to raise awareness and make adaptations to every day leadership.

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