If you have ever taken on a substantive change or major transformation, you know that such pursuits always almost always invite some resistance and hesitation. If the initiative has been tried and failed before, you have even a bigger challenge on your hand. You might hear the initiative being referred to as another “program of the month,” or be told by someone in the organization that they have “tried that before and it didn’t work.” Needless to say, convincing naysayers to become enthusiastic advocates for change in situations like this can seem like an insurmountable challenge. But there are some things you can do that can help, and I’d like to suggest a few in this post.
We live in a world in which the vast majority of people are simply tolerating their jobs and we think it’s normal for things to be that way. Very few people are excited about going to work, something that holds true regardless of industry or place on the organizational chart. Although there are some solid statistics that show this is the case, you don’t have to look further than the people around you or your friends—or even in the mirror—to know that most of us aren’t celebrating the opportunity to go to work and participate in making a meaningful contributions to our teams and clients while growing and feeling recognized and rewarded.
Anyone with the slightest amount of objectivity would agree that we look at ourselves, other people, our circumstances, and everything else around us through filters that we have consciously or subconsciously constructed. We simply see what we look at and find what we look for, and take what we see as “the truth” for granted while rejecting every other perspective as wrong, no matter how much evidence there is to support them. But knowing this makes no difference when we feel strongly about our worldview. When we are right, we are right and that’s that! We make up our mind which politician we are going to support or which department we are going to give our allegiance to, come hell or high water, and we end up doing everything we can to point to the speck in “those other people’s” eye while ignoring the plank in our own. We all have the tendency to act as if a foolish consistency is some kind of virtue, rather than “the hobgoblin of small minds,” as Emerson put it.
As explained in one particular interpretation of Open System Theory applied to organizational operation, there are three interrelated processes that are simultaneously running within every organization that directly determine the outcomes that they produce. Firstly, the Production Core Process, which has to do with all the activities that are directly related to producing the results. Secondly, the Individual Core Process, which involves that’s most important to the individuals relative to their own personal and professional objectives. And finally, the Social Core Process that involves the integration of the other two core processes in a way that creates the appropriate synergy as individuals work together to meet their individual and organizational objectives. None of these processes operates in isolation from one another, meaning that a failure in one will necessarily translate eventually to failure in the other two, and vice versa. High performance organizations devote the appropriate amount of time and attention to all three of these processes to ensure they work in concert to create common objectives between individuals, teams and the organization as a whole, while underperforming organizations overemphasize one process to the detriment of the others.
Culture transformation is warfare, make no mistake. It’s true that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” but our enemies—apathy, complacency, cynicism, resignation, hypocrisy, self-righteousness—are far more insidious and tenacious and dangerous than any physical combatant could ever be, for they can hide within and overtake anyone at any time. Considering the stakes of this epic battle, we would be wise to take stock of the tools we have at our disposal, on the front lines and at the top, and put them to good use. And I’m here to tell you that, bar none, the greatest “weapon” we have in this war are our words and our conversations with each other.