You Go First: How Corporate Culture Really Changes

April 23, 2013

Most efforts to change corporate cultures are an utter waste of time, energy and money.  There’s always a clever framework full of boxes and lines along with a sharp person who can expertly explain how they all connect.  Data is gathered for each, and plans for change are created.  It all sounds undeniably smart.

Then it goes nowhere.  “People” get in the way.  They don’t buy in, don’t make time for it and, in general, don’t give a **** about whatever plans the “change team” has.  In the beginning people try to be good corporate citizens and make the changes, but after a while the changes feel forced—and disconnected from results.  Eventually people refocus on their “day jobs” and the effort loses steam.  It becomes another well-intentioned casualty in the culture change game—something of a cliché at this point.

If you want to change culture, throw out your grand plans.  Use your frameworks to academically describe what’s going on if you must, but don’t use them as an intervention strategy.  Rather start where you’re standing, and you go first.  If you think your organization is lacking accountability, trust, efficiency, strategic thinking, a results focus, or any other characteristic of a high-performing organization, start with building it on your team.  Nothing gets under my skin more than a leader who tells me he’s frustrated about something at this company—for example a lack of transparency—only to sit in on his team’s meeting and see the very problem exists there.

Culture change starts at the local level and grows from there.  You gain credibility as a change agent as you deliver real and practical solutions.

Yes it’s slow and rife with challenges…but that’s real culture change.

– Doug