Changing Habits to Enable Culture Change

In a recent session with a client’s senior leadership team, the group finalized the “ready to share” draft of their organization’s desired purpose, values, and valued behaviors. This process is a lot of hard work; they stuck with it and developed a very solid statement.

Once they publish this purpose, values, and behaviors statement, expectations and scrutiny from all staff will increase; this team understands that. As we finished the day, I explained the best practices for them, as senior leaders, to emphasize BOTH performance and values with their direct reports. I described how, in day to day conversations, during field visits, etc. these leaders must change the way they discuss expectations with their staff. “You do not need to spend more time with your staff at this stage, but you do need to change what you discuss and what you emphasize with them,” I said.

I asked one member of the team who is responsible for field operations to serve as an example. He typically spends 2+ hours on field visits meeting with facility managers. I explained,”You must shift your focus with that facility manager from primarily discussing performance metrics and opportunities to balancing performance discussions with how well they and their site leaders demonstrate and reinforce the organization’s desired values.” The blood drained from his face – he said,“I don’t think I can do that! I’ve been doing these meetings the same way for years – I wouldn’t know how to change them.”

Refining Behaviors to Emphasize Values

Typically leaders have well-developed habits for managing staff and expectations. Some of those habits serve them well – and some don’t. During a culture change initiative, leaders need to:

  1. clarify and share specific expectations (as this team is doing with their newly defined purpose, values, and behaviors), and
  2. demonstrate commitment to the purpose, values, and behaviors by acting on them and emphasizing them consistently.

If a leader’s current habits are not developing a values-aligned organization, he or she must change daily practices through development of new habits. Desired habits will enable  leaders to live the espoused values of the organization and to coach and celebrate others doing so each day. Changing daily practices is about creating new habits: clarify desired practices, evaluate current practices, then close those gaps! Research says that developing new habits requires demonstration of new behaviors for 21 days – no time like the present to start!

One suggestion: consider finding a mentor or coach who can help you understand how others perceive you, whether you are being consistent with values-aligned behaviors, etc.

What NOT to Do is as Important as What TO Do

Like the senior leader who told me this week, “I don’t think I can do that!,” identifying how to more effectively lead a values-aligned culture requires a conscious strategy of deciding what NOT to do . . . which will enable time to DO the important things required of the servant leader. One of our most successful culture clients told me, “There is NOTHING more important for me to do than to talk about and reinforce our desired culture!” Early in their change process he spent about two hours per week focused on their desired culture; as the process evolved over a year, he found he spent about 10 hours per week proactively managing their desired culture. He certainly watched key performance metrics but did not micromanage them.

With dedicated effort, your new habits will be comfortable and will generate immense synergy in your organization with a balanced focus on performance and values.


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