The 9 People You Meet on Your Culture Transformation Journey


Every result your organization produces and every experience your team members have are both outcomes of and contributors to the culture of your organization. If you have an unhealthy culture, even the smallest issue can become a major source of dissatisfaction and create a vicious cycle of subpar performance and low morale. If your culture is healthy, it will have the capacity to not only withstand setbacks but use them as springboards for growth and progress. I have written extensively, both in my book, The Transformative Leader, as well as my weekly blog posts, about the characteristics of High Commitment Cultures (HCC’s) and the leadership mindset and behaviors that it takes to create them. In today’s post, I’d like to focus on the phases and emotional states that people in organizations go through during a culture transformation, using the example of nine "archetypal" figures that represent these phases.

It is important to recognize that at any point in time during the journey, there will be some combination of people with different mindsets about the transformative vision you want to implement. Generally speaking, there is always going to be a bell-shaped curve; enthusiastic and highly engaged and involved people will be on one end of the spectrum, and those who are resisting change, either actively or passively,  will be on the other, but the vast majority will be in the middle, straddling the fence and trying to decide whether they should follow your lead to become part of the movement or maintain the status quo. Whether the movement takes hold or not depends largely on whether you are able to get the organization past the tipping point, to a place where the majority of people are engaged in creating the desired culture and the accepted norm becomes one of joining the movement rather than staying stuck in the past.

Your role as a leader is to seize every opportunity to communicate what the transformative future makes available to the organization, acknowledge progress, make it easy for people to get involved in the movement, and just as importantly, mitigate the negative impact of the words and actions of the few “negative wizards” who are actively or passively slowing down progress. It is also important that you and others who are actively engaged in creating the desired culture recognize the language and behaviors that indicate where people are in terms of their willingness to get on board, and tailor your message and interactions such that every person, regardless of where they stand right now, is compelled to freely choose join the movement.

Below, I have listed the 9 most common "types" of people you meet along the way in your journey to transform the culture. If you recognize someone below, also recognize that this is only a description of where they are at the moment, not who they are and will always be; we all pass through these various phases but none of us are defined by them. Leaders, especially, do not have the luxury of stereotyping people as static caricatures and writing them off, because it is the leader's job to take people from wherever they are and guide them toward freely choosing to be committed to the transformation. While there is a certain base level of communication that is appropriate for everyone, no matter where they are on this spectrum, it is crucial to be intentional about tailoring your message and approach to different individuals and groups to get them onboard and get them to see what's in it for them to be part of the transformation.

1. The Saboteur
This person clearly sees the movement as a threat and is willing to do whatever it takes to stop its progress. They resort to spreading false rumors and creating dissent on the team just to protect whatever they think they are going to lose as a result of the culture transformation moving forward. It may be hard to identify the Saboteurs because they often do their work covertly so they don’t get caught. While this person should be treated with dignity and respect, as everyone else, their actions cannot be tolerated as they will become a major source of dissatisfaction and division within the organization. I would recommend that you very actively confront these behaviors and make sure people have plenty of accurate information that would discredit the words and actions of this individual. Paradoxically, the Saboteur usually has a greater appreciation for the power of culture transformation than those who are merely indifferent or skeptical, and if this appreciation can be expanded to include what's in it for them, they could in fact become an ally of the transformation efforts.

2. The Cynic
This person is not actively sabotaging but is cynical about the movement. Given a chance, they usually engage in negative advertising for anything that goes against the status quo but they may not go out of their way to proactively undermine progress. The Cynic often has the courage to voice their opinion in mixed company, and so this provides an opportunity for leaders to hear them out and address their legitimate concerns, while refuting any baseless claims and concerns they may have. Outspoken Cynics sometimes have an underground following comprised of the less vocal ones and so it’s generally worth the investment of time and effort to win them over. This can be accomplished by getting them involved in activities that require them to help develop the answers to the questions they have or solutions to the objections they raise. This causes them to either step up and become a contributing member, or decide to just go with the flow and no longer contribute to the negativity fomented by the Saboteurs.

3. The Resigned
This person is sometimes the hardest one to reach. They are indifferent to what happens. They are not strongly against culture change, but they are not necessarily for it either. Their indifference impedes progress because it helps maintain the status quo at a time when it takes a great deal of effort to break with the past and adopt a new mindset and behaviors. It is notably difficult to know how to get the Resigned motivated. There may be a number of reasons for people to fall into this category. They may have had negative experiences with getting excited about change, only to be let down. They may prefer to keep a low profile at work because they are concerned about work/life balance. Whatever the reason, it is important not to give up on them, but rather try to get to know what would cause them to be energized and make the opportunity available for them to become part of something exciting. At the very least, because of their indifference, they form part of the middle of the bell curve, and so, once the mindset and behaviors of the culture transformation become the norm, they can be expected to fall in line with relatively little objection.

4. The Skeptic
This person is leaning toward joining the movement but has several concerns that are holding them back. Their concerns are not necessarily motivated by harmful intentions, but by what they consider legitimate reasons to hold off on jumping on the bandwagon. They raise their concerns and are willing to engage in a productive dialogue and join in on the process to develop solutions. Their skepticism is a double-edged sword that often causes them to see the glass as half empty, but on the other hand serves as a great vehicle to surface and address legitimate issues that must be dealt with. It is prudent to ensure that this person has a seat at the table and understands that their skepticism is understood and appreciated as long as they manage to channel their energy into becoming part of the solution. Overtime, with the right approach, most skeptics can become the biggest asset to the movement and partner in leading transformation efforts, because they have the discernment to recognize possible issues, the courage to speak up and the willingness to get involved in developing solutions.

5. The Follower
This person is just there to do their job. They follow the crowd and the leader enthusiastically and take pride in doing whatever they understand to be their duty. They form the vast majority of the middle of the bell curve, and thus they represent the potential tipping point in the transformation efforts being successful or not. They are not resisting the movement, but they will likely not be a major force in making it happen until the tipping point is reached. They are in a critical position because depending on their perception of which side is "winning," they will lean one way or the other and ensure that side's success. It is important to give Followers plenty of positive reinforcement and ensure that they understand that they are appreciated. They need to be assured that the expectation is not that they take on a major leadership role in the movement so they don’t feel like supporting the movement would push them outside their comfort zone. It is also important to clarify expectations of the leaders in terms of changes they need to adapt to. It is helpful to give the followers an opportunity to stretch themselves and experiment with leading small parts of the work so they can begin to develop more ownership in the movement. The most important thing to keep in mind with Followers is that they need to know their work is appreciated, and they need to be able to trust and respect that leadership is doing what's best for them and the organization as a whole.

6. The Hopeful
This person tends to be an early adopter of anything that they see as a  positive for the future. They are optimistic about what the future holds and they are willing to get involved. They may be a bit hesitant to actively take on tasks and responsibilities and may need a little nudge and encouragement but when prompted, they willingly get involved. It takes very little effort to get this person involved and build on their positive energy to get them in action. At the same time, it is important that their optimism is rewarded and not taken advantage of. They need reinforcement that their faith in the brighter future is reasonable and feasible, and they need to be given ways to directly contribute to the transformation. They also need to be able to trust that the leadership has the best intentions at heart, lest their enthusiasm lead to disappointment and morph into resignation or cynicism.

7. The Doer
This person is enthusiastic about the transformation and involved in doing what it takes to get the job done. They promptly act on the decisions that are made and get in action to make them happen. They are also available, ready, and willing to get involved in whatever needs to be done. It’s very important to make sure that this person is clear on the highest priorities and their efforts are channeled to the work that makes the greatest difference. The Doer is like the Hopeful but with an emphasis on action, rather than faith. The Doer may or may not be fully bought in, but the only way they will convince themselves for sure if the transformation is worth the effort is by making the effort to test it out themselves.

8. The Committed
This person is all in. They are enthusiastic about the future. They are in action to make things happen and their commitment goes beyond just doing the work that has been identified. This person’s commitment transcends any negative impact of setbacks and ambiguity. They come up with ideas and they find ways to make them happen. They are respected for their capabilities and others are more likely to follow their lead. It is important to ensure that this person has enough autonomy to be a true steward.  

9. The Champion
This person has emerged as a self-appointed champion of the movement. They are fully committed to the culture transformation and actively involved in doing what needs to be done. They have credibility among their peers and others are willing to follow their lead. Additionally, over time, they turn their own followers into leaders like them. They actively identify needs, initiate improvement efforts, and set others up to successfully lead them. They are internally motivated and don’t need a lot of external encouragement to keep going but a little recognition to let them know that they are making a huge difference will go a long way. They are a consummate partner and equal to the leader when it comes to transforming the culture and the community.

An important point to reiterate is that people are always moving in and out of the above mentioned phases. It’s critical not to permanently judge and label people as being a certain way, even if they are predominantly in one phase over another, but always look for ways to elevate them to the next level of commitment and involvement.

Regardless of where you are, and who you meet along the way, I wish you the very best in your culture transformation journey!

About the Author
Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results.
Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.

As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!

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