16 January 2007

Culture Change & Shocks


There's a fairly well established sense that in order for leaders to help bring about meaningful innovation, organizational success, making a difference, etc... they have to start by instituting some sort of culture change.

As I began thinking about this, I came up with 3 categories of things that bring about large scale, enduring culture change:

New Blood
Time
A Shock To The System

But, New Blood is primarily a special case of Time (particularly in the case of a new generation). And both Time and New Blood are basically forms of shocks to the system. Which gets me down to one category.

So... after quite a bit of thought and conversation with lots of smart people, I've come to conclude that cultures change when there is a Shock To The System. Such as:

1) An influx of immigrants (Ellis Island, Irish Potato Famine, etc)
2) The arrival of a new generation
3) The march of time (measured in decades - see #2 above)
4) The discovery of gold, oil, etc
5) A sudden attack (9/11, Pearl Jarbor, etc)
6) A new tech breakthrough (fire, aircraft, iPod, etc)

No doubt there are other types of change-inducing Shocks, but the point isn't to create an all-inclusive list. I wrote all this to ask the following question:

What sort of shocks to the system can a leader introduce, in their attempt to create positive culture change?
I'm still thinking about that one...

3 comments:

Mark said...

What can a leader introduce, or what should a leader introduce... to create positive culture change?

Some things a leader can do:

-Fire some people, and hire some different people in their place.
-Set new performance measurement criteria/goals (i.e. what determine's people's salary, raise or bonus).
-Reassignments.
-Have a mantra and use it (and mean it).
-Win over a few key individuals first; let the change come from within.
-Lead by example... cancel their own pet projects if they don't support the "new direction".

I'm interested in hearing other's thoughts here...

Dan said...

Good point about the difference between Can and Should.

Fire / Hire is certainly in the Can column... and it comes with certain consequences which may be unintended & negative. Reassignments might be a kinder, gentler approach than firing... but I imagine that only works if the organization is large enough to really reassign people.

Changing the performance measurements & goals sounds like a very promising type of Shock (and I think that's the sort of thing most Change-oriented leaders try to do).

My favorite one on your list is "win over a few key individuals..." Sort of a special case of New Blood, I suppose.

This is where Thought Leadership comes in to play - getting inside the heads of people who are then able to get inside the heads of other people.

But how?

Dick Field said...

I find pointing out that "the Emperor has no clothes" (in whatever context) evokes an immediate, gut-level response in those hungry for truth - in a shocking kind of way. The trick is to galvanize that involuntary reponse and sustain the reaction - before the little mouse of doubt creeps in, "oh, that's just the way this phoney world is, I guess . . . ".