There is a common belief amongst most corporate executives: “changing corporate culture is one of the most difficult things to do.” Perhaps it’s so difficult because it involves human beings. People are not as simple as changing the oil in your car or the software in your computer. While transforming culture may appear analogous to changing computer software, there are complexities that make them enormously different. With that said, here are 3 aspects that outline some of those differences. Every CEO should consider them before initiating change initiatives.
People come with baggage: Unlike software in a computer, people have beenconditioned to believe life and business occur a certain way. In fact, based on each individual’s experience and environmental upbringing, they have proof their point of view is correct. Computer software, on the other hand, is designed for frequent updates. People often become stuck with their beliefs and never update them. For example, many women and minorities believe they have to work twice as hard to move up the corporate ladder. Furthermore, they anticipate a certain amount of discrimination. As a result, some will predetermine that no matter how hard they work opportunities at the top will never be made available to them. This predetermination can cause many built in defenses. The person could give up and never engage in the kind of training that will prepare them for top management. If they take that path and an opportunity does open up, they will not be prepared. If it doesn’t, they will have additional proof that there is discrimination. In other cases, a woman or minority could have animosity towards others. That animosity may make them less suitable for leadership positions. However, from their point of view, it will appear to be discrimination. If this mindset is not addressed, it could create a culture of victims who complain. While the workplace is not responsible for playing therapist to employees, people need tools to see how their belief systems can sabotage opportunities. Therefore, it would be wise for the CEO to provide training that helps people and groups let go of unproductive beliefs.
People seek guidance: In most cases, CEOs are ambitious people who understand the need to take initiative, even when there is no road map to get the job done. Not everyone has that drive. To transform corporate culture, it is imperative that people understand the new direction, what’s needed from them and how it will benefit everyone involved. In some cases, it will require retraining. The CEO’s job is to create an environment that empowers people to drive transformation. If not, people will develop their own ideas about the way things should happen. That could become directionless because there are too many directions. People need to know the path of the company. Without it, some may hesitate to take action for fear of being on the wrong path.
Culture will not transform until the CEO transforms: In a conversation with a CEO of a Fortune 500, he spoke in detail about how hard he worked to transform corporate culture. He said on a number of occasions he struggled with change initiatives. However, once he learned to transform himself first, it became significantly easier to transform the rest of the organization. He spoke about how, at first, he believed it was others who needed to change. He believed he was a smart, capable guy. From his perspective, transformation was for the rest of the company. In other words, he was the impediment. There are many companies that have gone through transformation. Except, the CEO did not participate in the training. As a result, the CEO was not part of the new language and mindset that was developed. When staff and management created innovative strategies, the CEO would work against them and undo everything because he had difficulty understanding the new way of thinking.
In most cases, to transform corporate culture, one must let go of old ways of thinking. In the words of Yoda: “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” By letting go, you can begin opening doors to possibilities you didn’t know you didn’t know.
What do you think? I would love to hear your feedback. And I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know.