The Role of Habit in Shifting Organisational Culture

I probably have more questions than answers on this topic, which is an annoying habit of mine that I’m trying to break. In the meantime, here are four commonly asked questions (and answers) regarding what it takes to identify both good and bad habits—and how your reaction to those habits can shift organizational behaviour and affect positive change within your organisation…

Can’t I just tell people what they’re doing wrong?
My working life is spent trying to improve organisations through their culture; the behaviour of their people, both leaders and employees. Telling people they need to change isn’t particularly realistic or helpful. People generally have more energy for positive endeavours rather than negative ones like trying to change our bad habits. Don’t get me wrong, many organisations are full of bad habits, but focusing on them is not going make a difference. It’s better to focus on the important things to do well and why they will benefit people.

So, I just need to tell people what the right thing to do is?
Habits are difficult to change. Habits fit into what social psychologists refers to as our schema, the protocols for how we make sense of the world. We have one for everything we do, and because they are embedded in an emotional part of our brains, they tend not to respond to logic very well. Whilst they are very resistant to change, they can be altered if something better becomes available and we can’t afford not to use it. Look for those opportunities. Think Dick Fosbury setting a new Olympic record with the Fosbury Flop, changing every high jumper’s technique overnight. Think Uber changing the way we use cabs and squarely questioning the need for car ownership.

How do I tackle something so big?
Organisations that try to tackle the culture all at once inevitably run out of steam, so take a leaf out of Leandro Herrero’s Viral Change approach and focus on creating a few, non-negotiable habits and using the success of these to move on to the next set. Organisations trying to change their entire culture at once forget that they have built very successful businesses on the strength of the way they work and the things they do well. Focusing on the few key things that made your company great is a good place to start.

But how can I convince people to care?
Things don’t get done by people unless there is some intrinsic or extrinsic value in it.

In the 1980s, Dannemiller created an equation for organisational change: Dissatisfaction x Vision x First Concrete Step > Resistance. Basically she is saying that there has to be a good reason to change and we need to be able to see the value and how we are going to get to that value. People need to feel that their new habits are not only meaningful but also make them feel good. BJ Fogg of Stanford University encourages people to start small and build up a behaviour with a self-celebration every time you complete the new behaviour because it helps you to repeat it and create a new habit.

So what does it all mean for creating effective habits in organisations?
1. Think small, be positive
– begin with only the two or three priorities where new, useful habits will make the most impact within your business. Work hard to create hope, to make it fun and meaningful to your leaders and all of your people.

2. Starting is easy, keeping it going is hard – use creative communications and experiences to co-create and introduce the new habits. But don’t forget to do the work upfront to make sure Leadership understands the business impact and cares about what happens to the habit over time, promoting, praising and rewarding the desired behaviours in employees.

3. You need to see visible results – you have to track the impact of the new habits, linking them to Key Performance Indicators that are respected in the business. It’s not always easy, but you’ve got to prove that the new habits are driving business success.

In short, if you want to achieve your desired culture: make the habit, don’t try to break it.

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Building Your Change GPS with Data You Already Have

Change has changed: a cliché but it’s true. Organizations are operating more fluidly using informal networks. This new behavior coupled with today’s pace and complexity of change means that companies need a data-driven approach to leading change. To understand this let’s take a look at how change management has evolved.

The Past: Leading Change Like Reading a Compass
Prior to the emergence of change theory in the late 20th Century there was little in the way of best practice. Leaders only knew the broad destination they were headed as most change was implementing tangible technologies and processes. It was like reading a compass: know the direction of travel and use your judgement and instinct to get there.

The Recent: Creating a Map for Change
Change theorists in the 1980s and 1990s suggested a series of approaches that represented an evolutionary step to codify what really works during times of change. This provided best practice techniques based on past evidence of success stories. It helped organizational development specialists create plans, in the same way a map provides the travel routes available from one place to another. This is the period of time when we began to understand that change is often over-managed and under-led, with too much focus on the map and not the destination.

The Now: Building a Change GPS
Today’s organizations challenge these approaches to change. Mainly because what these theories are based on is not immediately evident e.g. who are the real influencers, what are the barriers to change, and that there is often more than one path to success. The complexity of organizations, and the fact that change is now more continuous and volatile, makes planning around these insights exponentially more difficult.

What we need is a GPS for change: an active data-driven approach to predicting obstacles; identifying the best routes to take; and providing ongoing measurement and iteration. Let’s look at a typical change situation to bring this metaphor to life.

Implementing a New Organizational Strategy
New organizational strategies, and growing customer needs and expectations, often require new operating models and organizational capabilities. This places a large degree of change on the current workforce, some of whom may not fit the future state. Traditional change and workforce planning techniques have done a satisfactory job in ensuring business continuity. However, they have not consistently created an engaged and motivated workforce empowered to perform in the future state. This has an adverse impact on employee productivity and, ultimately, business performance.

How a Change GPS Can Help
The insight to prepare the workforce for the future state, and engage and enable them through the change, lies in data most organizations currently have or can easily collect. For example:

  • Employee sentiment towards the organizational culture
  • Leadership capability and style
  • Employee learning styles and motivations
  • Communications effectiveness

Much of this data already exists but it is seldom analyzed for change purposes. By collecting and analyzing this data before and throughout change we can create predictive models that identify many insights and trends. These include identifying:

  • Hidden influencers who can act as champions of the new strategy, using organizational network mapping
  • Predicted reactions to change, using typologies analytics, that will inform how to manage different employee groups
  • Engagement risks, so proactive action can be taken to sustain the engagement of critical employees
  • Change leadership development priorities aligned to the specific roles of leaders during change
  • The actions, from recruitment to learning, that will make sure employees are fully productive in the future state
  • Change adoption risks, identifying barriers to new ways of working and how to overcome them

This approach does not require perfect data, integrated databases, or shiny analytics systems. The “art in the science” is to take practical steps and make decisions on reasonable data that can provide a good degree of confidence. Over time these practical steps can be developed into a systemized ‘change GPS’.

So, how are you using the data you have on your colleagues to be more effective in a liquid change environment?

‘Feel the fear’ – authentic leadership in times of change

The UK election highlighted that being seen as an effective leader is a key factor for success. The search is now on for opposition parties to elect new leaders to change their parties’ fortunes.

Over the past three years, there has been a decline in people’s view of leaders. In 2014, just 22% of respondents in Ketchum’s Leadership Communication Monitor said leaders are demonstrating effective leadership, down from 25% in 2013.

Amplifying this issue, a recent Harvard Business Review study ranks strong executive leadership as one of the top three factors for business success.

So what makes for an effective leader in times of change?

Research by the Institute of Employment Studies shows authentic leadership as the most effective route to inspire followership and action.

Authentic leaders always portray a version of their ‘real self’. In doing so, they inspire loyalty amongst their staff who want a leader who is genuine, transparent and trustworthy.

This isn’t easy. As humans, we possess many beliefs about the world and ourselves; and when we face major decisions these beliefs can clash. This results in a psychological state of tension known as cognitive dissonance. The experience of dissonance is unpleasant, because we feel conflicted and torn between the choices we face. The natural reaction is to attempt to reduce or eliminate this conflict, and achieve consonance (i.e. self-agreement and conviction).

Leaders are no exception. When a leader adapts his or her attitude or behaviour to reduce cognitive dissonance, employees can interpret this as inauthenticity which can damage trust.

In effect, great leaders accept cognitive dissonance and ‘feel the fear’.

So how can we learn to ‘feel the fear’? Daggerwing works with leaders to unpick uncomfortable truths allowing them to:

  • Understand that they can choose to act differently, and this new behaviour can in turn modify their attitude
  • Recognise the moments or events that trigger them where dissonance is at play and break to cycle

By proactively managing their attitude and ability to lead change authentically, leaders are able to bring others through change successfully.

The new opposition party leaders will face many challenges ahead. If they can learn to ‘feel the fear’ and be authentic in their actions, they are more likely to succeed in gaining both their colleagues’ and the public’s followership and trust.

The Best Weapons in the Battle for World-Class Talent and Ideas

Creativity and innovation are topics that seem to be almost inescapable. A Google search on the topics returns 131 million results, and Amazon lists nearly 16,000 books on the combined topic. But why are they so omnipresent? Because the battle for world-class talent and break through ideas in today’s low-growth, highly-disruptive world is fiercer than ever. To combat this, companies must have a culture and organizational architecture that promotes creativity and innovation as they seek to gain and maintain competitive advantage.

So where to begin?

First, know and evaluate the four primary areas that inhibit or promote great creativity and innovation:

1. A company’s enabling and support of operational process.

2. Culture and leadership

3. The physical and digital environment

4. Assumptions and beliefs of employees and the organization

An honest assessment of how you’re performing in these areas, and how they work in concert, is vital to creating the conditions necessary for innovative success. As part of this assessment, there is one fundamental question that each leader, team and organization needs to ask themselves in today’s environment – are you able to change as fast as the world around you? If your answer isn’t a definitive “yes,” then you have an opportunity to unlock and unleash tremendous value by dismantling these barriers that keep innovation from flourishing.

We at Ketchum Change know that “Liquid companies that are able to foster innovation and adapt quickly to both opportunities and challenges possess four key traits:

1. Agile: Being driven by passion and desire to seize opportunities in real-time is part of their core values and DNA. It’s how they attract, hire and develop talent and orient their organization to seize advantages, instead of being afraid of risk, change and challenges.

2. Dialed-In: They use progressive approaches to create strong connections with internal and external stakeholders, embrace proactive listening, and foster co-creation.

3. Transparent: They communicate with clarity, timeliness and authenticity across borders and organizational levels.

4. Pioneering: They promote and create systems and incentives to provoke curiosity and support risk-taking to innovate.

To become “Liquid,” here are a few ideas to set conditions for success in your organization:

1. Stay connected with employees

2. Create a direct line of communication between leaders and employees

3. Be transparent by breaking down (or even destroying!) organizational barriers

4. Give employees context… and the ability to spark ideas

5. Lead by example by driving creativity and innovation in your own space

And don’t forget to leave a comment below if you have any questions or thoughts about how to bolster creativity and innovation in your organization.

Liquid Change in Latin America: BRICS, Mortars and Frontiers

We recently had the pleasure of meeting with friends and colleagues at our offices in Argentina and Brazil. While on my trip, by way of some great opportunities arranged by our gracious hosts, we had the opportunity to take a closer look at the communications and change management landscape of the region.

The world has turned its eyes towards Latin America, and for good reason. With rich histories, abundant resources and dynamic economies, it’s now a pivotal time for businesses to maximize their growth in the region if they hope to adapt to the pace and nuances of each market.

Here are a few of my observations on communication opportunities that exist in this space, particularly in areas that are experiencing more rapid change than their European and US counterparts.

1. Reaching the Next Stage of Maturity
Argentina’s Frontier economy and Brazil’s BRIC economy are both experiencing shifts that are modernizing the landscape of the markets. As industries continue to grow, change management and highly effective internal communications are particularly important to businesses focusing on how they operate, allocate resources and achieve new stages of growth.

2. Setting a High Bar
With a large number of multinational businesses in both Brazil and Argentina, it’s clear that there are tremendous advantages for global organizations to continue building a presence by investing in advanced workforce and talent infrastructures that support and attract the best people. As the products, brands and reputations of these businesses rapidly evolve from local to global, organizations must maintain local expertise and agile communications while bolstering their talent capabilities.

3. Scaling Excellence
Brazil is home to 75 unique cultures and a geographic footprint larger than India. With such a large and diverse landscape, companies have a unique opportunity to tap into enormous employee enthusiasm and regional pride, creating dynamic cultures that drive productivity, growth and consumer confidence. The first step should be to actively shape a high-performance culture by harnessing the potential of sophisticated internal communications and compelling employee value propositions (EVP). Look to develop a system that instinctively reacts to market changes, rewards innovative thinking and is dialed-in to the local environment.

4. Break Through with Creativity and Innovation
As businesses navigate fluctuating economies, regulatory environments and political parties, it’s more important than ever to harness employees’ creativity and innovation. Creating a work environment that rewards new ideas and breaks down traditional hierarchies and siloes, so brilliant ideas from anywhere can be turned into innovative actions and products, will help businesses develop a clear advantage.

As companies both big and small look to cultivate future-proof organizations in this exciting region, they will need to deftly handle the unique challenges within each market. It’s clear that for local organizations, having a strong internal communications foundation built into their rapid expansion plans will help them compete within the global landscape, while global brands can benefit from a change system that helps them become more nimble and tap into the nuances and unique challenges in each market. For both, having ‘Liquid Change’ organizations will be crucial as the world’s attention is increasingly drawn toward Latin America.