“Customer care is still interpreted differently by each and every person you talk to, but I strongly believe it holds the key for our success, not just in sales but in innovation and market leadership…We have a great team, resources, and the support of our CEO but the biggest challenge remains dissemination, integrating this new approach on the cellular level, getting to every last employee…” Director of Customer Care, security software industry
Getting individuals and teams to implement a new culture is typically one of the hardest challenges change agents in organizations can take on. Values and response patterns that are associated with people’s culture run deep, they have emotional ties and are usually invisible and subconscious. This case study, taken from KCI’s new book, The Art and Science of Changing People Who Don’t Want to Change, is a great example.
Chris, the Director of Customer Care, was trying to get the new culture to take greater hold in several more “resistant” departments. It’s important to note that resistance isn’t necessarily a negative behavior, nor is saying “no” to change. You know resistance is there if people are not implementing the new culture in a lasting way. When we met Chris, he was well ahead of the curve in terms of designing an effective change effort. He had been collecting and disseminating success stories and case studies his team collected in working with his company’s clients. He rightfully believed, that if people experience the new culture through examples, they would be much more likely to implement the new culture. He didn’t think about it (and was mostly ignorant to) the science behind his approach, but much of the approach he intuitively chose to take was aligned with the latest brain science research.
The challenge for Chris, as it often is with cultural integration, is that while people became aware of the expected change effort, most still didn’t adopt the new culture into practice. Brain science research provides excellent guidance on how to overcome this common change-related challenge. Here are a few examples of where science meets cultural implementation:
- Define the change in experience terms: many organizations talk about the new culture in knowledge terms, but knowledge does not translate into practice. Collecting examples and sharing stories, like Chris did, is an excellent way to avoid the knowledge trap. But note – in order to make sure people are interpreting the meaning you want them to assign to stories and examples as a way to get them to understanding the new culture, the stories and examples must come from them. One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is trying to “feed” examples. Let people bring the examples to you. That way you’ll have the opportunity to see where they are at.
- The best way to adopt something new is to teach it to others: in our experience, a change team, like the one Chris was heading, is of great value. It becomes even more effective if the change is designed with clear dissemination system through team managers. Once direct managers in the organization practice and reinforce a clear new culture (clear in experience terms) with their direct team, change is applied seamlessly. The important thing is to make sure managers get the new culture implicitly (they know what it means in action, not just how to talk about it) AND that managers are provided with a way to disseminate that experience of the new culture to their direct teams. Sharing examples is a great way to go about it, provided you follow the first principle included above.
- Tie change to behavior and application: many change efforts are done in the sky, with nothing anchoring them to the ground. Top leadership talks about the change, decisions are made and communicated from the top, and the hope is that people will notice the change and, if the instructions are clear, people will be able to apply them. The trouble with this approach is that it makes a great foundation for awareness, but not for application. The reason change needs to be led by direct managers, is because they are in a position to continuously tie the new, sometimes lofty-seeming, values or culture to specific actions, behaviors and responses. It’s this feedback loop that makes it possible for people to adopt something into practice.
“This process put our vision into practice…it was as if until that point we were talking two very different languages and suddenly words that before didn’t make sense were finally clear.” Click here to learn more about what it takes to design change efforts that are aligned with brain science.