The Process of Cultural/Organizational Change

Change is hard until we get started, then Newton’s first law takes over.

So – how to get going? Well, start with realizing that change happens through a series of your actions and diffusion of social responsibility. Reverse engineer your change in whatever medium you prefer and identify broad steps. Here are several methods to navigate your plan:

  • Gather interested people for a low-stakes brainstorming meeting with the intention of redesigning/re-imagining some aspect of your organization that you believe would result or point in the direction of your current broad step (keep the topic narrow but meaningful). Conduct the meeting and hope for new ideas – don’t forget it wasn’t penicillin Alexander Fleming sought. Prep your notes and take good notes during the brainstorming; try to only interject when you have to to restart or recenter. Afterwards, collate and tabulate – honestly, but with a purpose. Report to the larger group or organization what the low-stakes session concluded with excitement. This method of positive democratic creativity co-opts organizational conservatives because people feel pressured to accept the will of the group.
  • Conduct semi-annual or annual “talkfests” with each employee. While time intensive, these debriefing sessions are a panacea for change. If you want to add a concept or problem solving strategy to your culture, start by asking a question the answer to which is your change. Take great notes about their answers and freely quote employees to each other as often as possible. This method allows you to make rapid progress, as you have a monopoly of information compared to each employee who only had one meeting. Each employee also believes they are important because you took the time to listen, both to them and to their peer whom you are quoting (they also desire to be quoted by you).
  • Codify everything. Especially things that only happen periodically. This will give you the same claim as every conqueror – the ability to write history. As was so eloquently put by Terry Goodkind: “People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true, or because they are afraid it might be true. People’s heads are full of knowledge, facts, and beliefs, and most of it is false, yet they think it all true. People are stupid; they can only rarely tell the difference between a lie and the truth, and yet they are confident they can, and so are all the easier to fool.”  As a result, people want to believe that whatever history says happened, happened. This method is only useful narrowly, as people will only let this cognitive dissonance stretch so far before they cry foul.

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