Building a Change Culture

Every project starts with good intentions. But as one of my mentors said, good intentions does not equal good results.The conundrum then is not the intent of doing a good job but the act. The more we do the less we see, and its when projects start, that the change cycle really begins. Change is evidently a part of life. A more stoic view would state that life is suffering. Change and suffering go together synonmously on projects, for without suffering there is no compelling vision, without knowing what we dont want, there is no way to see what we do want.

Change, in my view, is a mechanism in which we instruct change. It‘s a course correction and inherently change comes about because we are not where we should be, or there is a better way to get there. Change is big, bold and beautiful, however the implementation of change can leave people somewhat overwhelmed. Imagine a project where there is limited creative license, where there is limited time to do anything other than your job. No new conversations can be had, because there are already issues for you to attend, there are people you need to discuss with, decide with, review with, delegate to and data to analyse. No doubt change on projects can be a hairy and precaurious thing. Change agents and professed transformation gurus often offer little solitude or protection under any change regime and the results or benefits seem to escape us all. So what are we to do? A project that does not change is a poor mans map not a robust plan, and we therefore have no way of making corrections to our destination without a means of intervention. I imagine a project to be something of a sail ship. You have a skipper (exec), navigators (directors) and the teams below, all scurrying around the deck and below doing their part. What's interesting here is, if I asked you well then what makes the change to the destination, you might say the wheel and the rudder. You wouldnt be wrong. In this analagy there are two types of changes. Those that we control (wheel to rudder) and those that we do not (wind to sail). The sail responds to the wind and improves our performance, direction and allows us to take advantage of the environment around us. The wheel however is done above deck, its an executive decision and usually made without the consort and consent of the lower decks.

So what, I hear you say.. Well, try now to imagine your project and apply the various changes occuring. Are they large bold movements associated with turning the wheel? I wonder how many of those changes are necessary? Could it be the navigator or skipper got it wrong? diverged slightly? Chances are they could get it wrong and when they do, what would the crew say, how would they feel? Not being involved in the decison process alienates those that have to follow. So in some ways big wheel to rudder change could cause distrust, cause divide amongst the crews on your team. Furthermore what of the wind and sail? Now that we've changed directions we must 'hoist the sails' or whatever the Navy jargon might be to adjust the sail to catch the wind. This to me sings volumes of truth.

This impact to culture, i.e. the way we work together, will be impacted. Changes in wheel or sail impacted by direction or environment means we can become entangled and often and taken off course quickly. Communication can be conflicting and this leaves everyone running around frantically to help. The importance of clarity of where we are going and how we will get there is an imperative to fostering a positve culture. What's more, communication is the vehicle in which you deliver these two change imperatives.

If the imperatives for change are purpose and instruction then the driving force must be a reciprocal communication method. Have you ever had an experience where someone talks at you not to you? Have you ever been in a situation where someone did all the speaking and none of the listening? Of course you have. Ok, this was probably a loaded question, but the dynamic of actively participating and listening to the “how” carries with it a framework for others to cling to. In my example above of a divergent ship, the key to managing positivity in a change culture is tied to the effective delivery of the message of change and the ability to carry that message through to the final destination.

I was once told, in the absence of certainty you must increase the frequency of communication. This couldnt be more true to manage and build a responsive and organised change culture. Communication must be swift, concise and personalised. The skipper standing at an ‘all hands’-each morning might prepare all and allow them to understand the ‘why‘ and the purpose (which is important) but more than not the change has not be curated down to the individuals personal involvement to the change proposed. What does it mean to me? Whats in it for me? What do I need to do? These are all common and standard questions that your communication methods must handle on a frequency relative to the complexity, velocity and size of changes you're planning to implement. Humans are incredibly adaptive, innovative and productive when they know more than they need. Its not about selling a change, it about fostering growth within individuals. A positive and compelling destination brings different people a common purpose and thus unifying culture.

As soon as you do this, you unleash personal responsibility or the ability for individuals to respond as they understand their role in the greater cause. Sometimes change seem like a Mission Impossible. However people with the right level of moral and adaptive leadership can overcome huge obstacles and their faith starts in the leaders ability to convey a confident and purposeful mission of change. A leader to follow through and individualise its consent among the ranks is crucial to the followers ability to absorb others views at a greater and more empathetic plight. A leader who refuses to allow small deflections - such as a change in wind direction, deter from the main objective, outcome or goal. Be resilient. Be steadfast and if you are going through swells or tidal waves of change, know that change is a mindset of the collective and individual.

A few final thoughts on reinforcing a positive change culture is to talk a little about the behavioural aspect. Notably people have different perceptions of change and therefore they attach a differing value to its worth based on their personal experience and whether or not it values their position or aspirations. If it does not then, sad to say some may go out of their way to disrupt the faith in the leader or force various forms of intentional and unintentional espionage. Some things to look out for in change cultures, is those that are actively or passively disrupting, distorting or diluting the communications and purpose. In my view it is those with a passive attitude that tend to be the most disruptive. We call those not on the change journey as disengaged, but the reasons for being disengaged are generally simple to resolve, if someone cares enough to ask then usually someone will respond. Remember, people dont care what you know until they know that you care.

You could have the greatest change culture program or roadmap in the world, you could have the greatest leaders or company on the planet. If people dont feel valued then sad to say your change program is heading into choppy waters. There are a lot of resources out there to support my views and plenty of methods to the approach of change. But if we dont understand our moral duty to give our crew what they need then any change we set sail for could be unnecessarily interupted.

I will leave you with one last quote, I've used since I left the navy. Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors. If you want change culture to work, you must bring in champions of change to motivate, engage, enlighten and encourage adaption, adoption and consignment to your purpose and vision of change.

Wish you the best of luck! Bon Voyage

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