In the last issue of The Next Step in this space we said that the kinds of organizational issues that generally rise to levels noticed by a senior management are those that have become organizational habits, which then have become part of the organization’s culture.
Changing habits—particularly organizational habits embedded in culture—isn’t easy, but it can be done.
The habit-changing mechanism is the same whether for a personal habit or for that of an organization. It’s basic requirements are attention, intention, and support.
Changing Habits Requires Attention. Like some universal application of the First Step in a 12-step program, no one can fix a condition they can’t see or won’t admit is there. Look around your organization for organizational behaviors that have become so habitual that no one notices them anymore. Signs and signposts are everywhere.
What are your employees saying? What are your resigning employees saying? What are your internal and external customers saying? What are your vendors saying? What is your organization’s reputation? All these can point to cultural conditions that are less than optimal.
Changing Habits Requires Intention. Intention is a combination of willingness and awareness. As a potential change agent, you need to ask yourself, Are you really willing? You’d be surprised by the number of people who say all the right things about change, but who balk at actual implementation of change. They block it and even sabotage it because they secretly fear the untested in their organizations.
Willingness has two aspects: are you willing to go through the change yourself and are you willing to put your organization through it, which is a very different thing.
The awareness piece of intention is a tricky and, frankly, annoying thing. Once you become aware of something, it can really begin to
bother you. You see constant reminders everwhere—every place you turn, you step on a rake which then hits you in the head, and that can lead to lots of headaches! And, no matter how quickly remedial action is being taken, it never seems fast enough. It’s important to remember that changing a habit is a process that will take some time, which is why the third element, support, is so important.
Changing Habits Requires Support. Only the organization can provide the support needed by its people to effect contemplated change. Individuals can be self-starters and maintain personal motivation up to a point, but without appropriate support, even the most enthusiastic of us loses our wind. Momentum slows, and inertia takes over.
Organizational support can take a variety of forms. Initially, training programs, workshops, and other initiatives can be invaluable as motivational tools to bring awareness to a situation and create the desire for change within each individual. But beyond that, a program of regular get-togethers and facilitated or unfacilitated discussions where attendees can bring up and handle issues as they arise are really necessary to bring the learning where it needs to be and keep it there. At those meetings employees can talk about successes and failures with respect to the change. These kinds of initiatives can be useful to keep the energy going and the subject of the change “top of mind.”
It’s important, too, to look at the organization’s system of ritual and rewards. It’s amazing the number of organizations that want people to stop doing X in favor of starting to do Y, but then continue in various forms to recognize and reward those continuing to do X.
When it comes to creating organizational change, it’s important to think in terms of a “course of treatment” that includes attention, intention, and support elements.