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Culture Knocks Out Strategy

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Many companies have a huge gap between their culture and strategy — a problem that only gets bigger in larger companies, especially when they are in transition. Management at all of these companies have a common reflex: Scream louder about goals and policies as the gap between culture and strategy widens.

This is pointless because culture eats strategy for breakfast! Feelings and emotions trump rules and structures.

Yet we pay more attention to strategies than to culture.

That’s because changing a strategy is relatively simple. And changing a culture is extremely difficult: It takes perseverance; it takes willpower; and most important, it takes authenticity.

So here are six tips for successful change management.

1. Bring alignment to existence/purpose and feelings

Whatever your strategy is, your entire workforce needs to believe in it. There is no point in talking to the head, when the heart is not listening. There is no point in communicating KPI’s if employees don’t see the value of them. You have to involve your workforce and talk about the reason why you have certain goals. Ultimately the workforce needs to consciously and voluntary adopt change.

Sometime I hear people say “People don’t like change”. I don’t buy that. I think People do like change, but they do not like to be changed. There are many reasons why people resist change, but not changing is no option either. So give employees every opportunity to embrace chance, making them intrinsic and valued part of the change. Never enforce a change. Force can only negatively impact the feelings and thus bring you further from your goal of alignment.

It’s no problem if there are people who don’t like the change. The bigger the change, the bigger the potential shift in workforce needed to support the change. Some changes require a different people.

2. Changing is unlearning

When organizations change, they often are afraid to lose clients. They will bet on both the old and the new. Multiple paradigms in an organization is no recommendation..Company’s  must say goodbye to their old ways. They will have to unlearn – and to unlearn is much more difficult than to learn!

Focus on the new is focus on learning, which is the rational part, the strategy part. Focus on unlearning is focus on the emotional part, the behaviors. That requires much more energy, but without it, no strategy change will succeed. And to do it correctly, you have to identify what the “old” exactly is. That is what you have to unlearn.

3. Respect the change curve

The ‘old’ had a purpose. It wasn’t wrong, but it changed to survive. Nobody wants a wired phone today, but there was nothing wrong with a wired phone in the 20th century.

If there is a lot of change there can be multiple layers of old and new. People used the old way to get the organization to where it is today. And their experience can be a fantastic source to enrich the “new”. That is something to respect.

Adapting to change differs per generation. A flawless execution of a new strategy requires an optimal composition of your workforce.

4. What about hierarchy and leadership?

People don’t need managers. If they need something then they need leadership. Leaders show the way. Leaders walk the talk, which means being authentic. People see right through an unauthentic person, weak promises or sophistry. Without leadership there is no change.

And you need more than leadership: You need champions, non-managers, people from all levels of your organization who take initiative. Who show how it’s done. These people are most valuable. They are the change agents. Give them all the room they need and give them the credit they deserve.

5. Reward positive results and behavior

Reward the people with the guts to experiment, the change agents that show change results. And make those results and rewards public.

Having no differentiation effectively rewards employees and managers who didn’t change. That is extremely dissatisfying for your change agents and unclear towards the entire workforce.

6. Celebrate!

Celebrate and have fun with every small step towards change you make. There are two reasons for this. First, who argues against having fun together? Second, if you cerebrally connect new behavior with celebration and fun, your mind will appreciate the new way of working.

Celebrating goes hand in hand with showing good results, which motivates people to work in the new way, getting more connected and engaged. Events that can be celebrated (competitions, employee of the week, and milestones to be hit) are great ways to say goodbye to old methods.

Conclusion: Focus on Culture

Change management requires willpower, energy and time. But it pays! Companies with a strong change management strategy are 3.5 times more likely to enhance performance, according to Towers Watson.

Focus on culture is one of the most important competitive advantages you have. And there is only one way to do it: the authentic way!


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