Three Keys to Sustaining Culture Change

September 10, 2012

I read an excellent post by author Mark Miller recently about what it takes to create a leadership culture. It couldn’t have been more spot on. To create a winning leadership culture, according to Miller, you must define it, train it, practice it, measure it, and model it. Want I want to add is another dimension on how to position your organization to sustain the culture changes you wish to implement. Here are the three considerations:

Corporate CultureMindsets

Mindsets are crucial since they drive behavior. Therefore it follows that if we can change the way people think, their behavior will change as well. But you can’t get there without first identifying the current mindsets that exist as well as the ones you want to replace them with. Maybe employees see training as on-the-clock vacation and you want them to see it as a critical part of their development. Maybe they view leadership as the ability to fight fires and you want leadership to be viewed as the ability to manage proactively so that fires don’t occur. Or they could they see leadership as the ability to execute tasks and instead you want leadership to be seen as the ability to empower others to execute. It could be any number of things, technical or strategic. The key question to identify is: how does the organization (or department or team) think currently and how should it think differently?

Processes & Infrastructure

The temptation at this point is to develop a communication campaign or training to convince everyone of the benefits the new mindsets will bring to the organization. But just identifying new mindsets (no matter how good they are) is not enough. They need the supporting processes and infrastructure to be in place to make the change possible.

To illustrate, imagine a mayor of a city speaking fervently about the benefits of public subway transportation. It will save people money, use less gas and open up access to different parts of the metro area. You are sold. The only problem is, the city doesn’t actually have any tracks (no supporting infrastructure). Or, if they do, you have to fill out 10 forms, navigate a complicated website and wait six months to get your pass approved (exasperating process). So you simply stick with driving. That’s what happens when your processes and infrastructure don’t support the new mindsets. As good as it may be, people won’t embrace a change that doesn’t work.

Roles & Responsibilities

Ultimately, a new culture change is still just wishful thinking until everyone is given responsibility for embodying it at their level. While mindsets drive behavior, behavior is much easier to measure. And ultimately, changed behavior should translate into new business results (also measurable). Whether the new behaviors and results become integrated into performance objectives or business analytics, they need to be visible, not as sticks, but carrots. What gets recognized and rewarded gets repeated. Remember Zig Ziglar’s mantra, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” Show people how embracing the new mindsets, utilizing the new (or existing) processes and infrastructure and accepting the new roles and responsibilities will not only improve the culture of the organization, but will set them up for success as well.

In all of this, what we can’t allow ourselves to forget is Miller’s last point: model it. If the leaders in any organization don’t model the change they’re selling, no implementation strategy will sell it for them. So see and shape the future, but don’t forget to always embody the values. Actions will always speak louder than words.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or   follow him on Twitter.