Sunday, December 31, 2017

Company-wide culture change (evolution): is it an art form, corporate bluff, or is there a coherent methodology to guide practices?

I was reading this Guardian article on New Year's Eve

The article looks back at the management history which gives me some inspiration on how to improve organisation life in 2018, and how best to evolve an organisation culture. (Note: I intentionally not use the word "change" the organisation culture, because this implies a non-communicative top-down push approach to change people, more on this point later in the blog). 

Quoting the article, "If we hope to improve organisational, then a good place to start is by reducing the amount of bullshit our organisations produce. Business bullshit allows us to blather on without saying anything (...) As we find our words become increasingly meaningless, we begin to feel a sense of powerlessness."

I agree with the author, this does not need to be the case. Company wide culture change cannot and should not be fluff that is filled with meaningless words. The issue I like to think through Is "how" to design culture program in a coherent, practical and repeatable way (that is not based on a cookie cutter recipe)? 

I try to experiment and practice in my corporate life the following:

- Instead of using "big words", I find ways to have genuine dialogue with my colleagues, to understand one another the purpose of our jobs, why we think/behaviour in certain ways at work, where we struggle, where we could help one another, and sharing our dreams. 

- And, I know I must be pragmatic, knowing that to achieve this "utopian" level of exchange, I  must overcome some thorny challenges. The deep sharing won't happen by chance, certainly not through spontaneous conversation, it has to be done by design. I am mindful that there are experts (people-in-power, thought leaders, bureaucrats, nice people) who will intentionally or unintentionally silence the voice of those who are not like them, and so not all the colleagues are willing to speak up, and many voices and passion will remain hidden. They become labelled as the " uninitiated group" who are not willing to embrace change. 

- Spontaneous communication seems easy, nice to do. Let's have a meeting or run a townhall to talk about culture change! Let's have an interactive training and knowledge exchange session!  Talking and sharing always make people feel involved. This is not what I am talking about here. Meetings and talking shops do not mean building deeper understanding, nor would the quality of exchange lead to better informed decisions to change things for the better. 

- I believe there is a need to have genuine conversation to share ideas and knowledge  - based on equal status that everyone has something to offer, there is give-and-take, based on a fundamental belief that coming out from the conversation, everyone involved experience some changes  - and I believe one has to put in extra effort to attend to power issues if we want to communicate in a communicative way. It is really hard, it requires deliberate practice and deliberate interventions, communication procedures. And ithey form the core foundation methodolody to design any company-wide culture evolution program. 

- I constantly remind myself: if I want to play a part to evolve the company culture, I should start by changing myself, not changing others. The first step is to change the way I facilitate communication, listening to myself and one another, bring out people's needs, pains and dreams in a communicative way. 

Some experienced communicators, facilitators or coaches call this an art form. They bring out best ideas and make people listen to one another. The limitation is that only these experienced people can make it happen. 

I am interested in experimenting ways to scale company-wide culture evolution, by introducing interventions/practices that are informed by a set of coherent theorectically informed methodology. I am inspired and indebted to  Dr Brenda Dervin's Sense Making Methodlogy and her 40+ years of research evidence to guide my thinking and my practices. 

If you are interested, this is a good reference article to go deep into the theory. (Mind you, I don't use the theoretical language in my workplace, I do not ask my executives team not my colleagues to read academic papers at work, I don't want to make it too abstract. These theories inform what I do, I stay very pragmatic and result oriented at work, designing practices to achieve business outcomes). Yet, I know my blog readers have diverse interest, so I share an article here. 

Dervin, B. (2015). Dervin's Sense-Making as theory, meta-theory, methodology, and method, pp.59-80. In Nasser, A. & Saif A. Understanding information  science: Twenty key theories. Hershey, PA: IGI Global. 

I welcome your thoughts and anyone who are willing to share any alternative approaches to design culture program. Get in touch! 

1 comment:

lapsaptong said...

Happy New Year!
Thank you Bonnie for sharing your thoughts! These days, I am working together with a regional organization; the leadership team is pushing their teams to change: "If we keep doing the same thing, we will achieve the same results. If we want to grow, we need to start to work differently!"
At the same time, there is little change of the way they lead; therefore, the teams are (maybe) confused; don't have the energy to work in a different way.
In order to evolve, we need to evolve ourselves first - so true!