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Are you prepared to slaughter your sacred cows?

March 22, 2010

I’ve been thinking about culture change lately.  One of my clients is ready to leap into the web 2.0 world, but many of their employees (unionized workforce) are less enthralled.  Moving into web 2.0 for them is a big culture change.  And just wanting to change the culture is not going to do it.  As I read on Fast Company’s blog recently:

You don’t turn around years of enculturation by simply granting them permission to help each other.

Steve, that is a brilliant observation. 

So, how do we do it then?  What does a company do when it wants to make the leap from today’s culture to tomorrow’s?  In the OD world, they’d look to Schein or Kotter or other culture/change gurus for answers.  Here’s my take on it, which may not be what the gurus expect, but I think it’s practical.

  1. You’ve got to be prepared to slaughter the sacred cows.  Things that have always been.  We’ve always done it that way.  No one has ever suggested that we stop/start/keep doing that.   Hone in on the cows.  Those cows have got to go, and someone has got to stand up and say it out loud.  Like the child who shouted that the emperor had no clothes.
  2. Make sure you’ve got a leader who is willing to actually lead.  Not just go through the motions.  A real leader who can slay the sacred cows.  Not a bloodbath or a butcher job, but an honest slaying.  I’ve met so many so called leaders who have the title but not the capabilities.   Provide focus, structure, direction.  Listen.  Admit when you’ve made a mistake.  Give feedback.  Remove roadblocks.  As someone I know so (in)delicately put it “strap on some balls” and get it done.
  3. Pay attention to the details.  OK, so leaders shouldn’t be micro-managing, but for goodness sake, hire people who can actually put together a workplan and know how to estimate work.  I think one of the best skills I’ve ever learned is the art of estimating how long something might take.  I am always shocked at how elusive this is for many organizations.  Why don’t they teach this?  There’s very little point in dreaming about a new culture if you aren’t going to actually figure out how to make it work.
  4. Take the time to figure out what you actually want people to DO.  I have been on many “change” projects, where no one actually articulates what they want people to do differently after the project is finished.  One example is a project where the organization wanted the employees to “increase referrals”.  To who? For what?  What’s a referral? How frequently? Who is increasing these referrals? Why? How will they know they are done?  Who will tell them?  It’s always assumed that it’s obvious.  Well, it’s not.
  5. Sell it.  Yep, sell it.  People within an organization are exposed to tons of information all the time.  Those corporate communicators may not call it this, but it really is a sales thing.  You really have to be able to describe the features and benefits and attach it to something that they care about.  In training, we’ve always called it the WIIFM effect.  What’s in it for me?   If you can’t sell this, then you are in trouble. 

There you have it.  Just one person’s opinion.  I’m not sure what the gurus would say, but it’s what I would do.  It’s what I do, do.  The real question is whether or not it will work with unionized workplaces.  Or is that the real sacred cow that cannot be slaughtered?  I wish I knew.

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