Tuesday, February 5, 2013

To Promote Culture Change, Don't Talk About It

Photo by Kin Mun Lee via Flickr

Conferences and self-help books promote lofty ideas. At work that means empowerment, collaboration, "going virtual," and so on.

But when it's time to actually implement a vision it's wise to never talk about it on that abstract level.

Instead start with a requirement that is very specific and preferably tied to the introduction of a new technology.

You let people know way ahead of time that the requirement is coming. You talk about it frequently, knowing that most of what you say - if not all of it - will be ignored as people cling to the old way.

When the requirement arrives you let people continue to work the old way for a period of time that feels lengthy enough. Even if it does not feel efficient to you.

You hold meetings and training sessions and brown bags and forums where you talk about the technology tool - only briefly touching on the requirement if at all.

The people doing those sessions should be focused on building good relationships as well as on understanding the way things traditionally have been done.

There should be ample time built in for questions and for things to get off track.

People who resist the change usually have a good reason for doing so. Listening to and engaging with them means they will convince everybody else to go along.

You don't talk about trying to do a culture change when you're doing it. That much is axiomatic. You can tout it when you write the case study at the end.