5 Insights to Help You Prepare for Cultural Change
How do you change a culture?
When we consider the need to change culture, there are so many steps and thoughts we need to process. Culture change is a big topic.
Although many conversations will only scratch the surface, in part one of this two-part article, we’re going to focus on the preparation for change, and in a subsequent article, we’ll cover the implementation for change.
1. Clarify What Needs to Change
Clarifying what needs to change may be evident since you can probably define what’s hindering the organization. I would take that a step further and although you intuitively know what needs to change, sit down and spend time with your observations and do the following.
Write it Out
Write out the negative parts of your current culture. Look for the reasons why they’re impacting the culture negatively. May sure it’s a shared perspective from some key influencers in your organization. Talk through the challenges together, and make sure it’s not just your perspective.
Look for What is Good
You need to look for the good, so you don’t fixate on what’s not working. Even if it’s glaring at you and you feel overwhelmed, make sure you pause and look for what is good in the culture. The good can become overshadowed by the weaker elements of your culture. There are good things that positively contributed to your culture, or you wouldn’t be where you are now.
Clarify the Culture Change
Take time to clarify what you’ll need to keep and what you’ll need to change. Spend some time defining your culture.
2. Understand Why Your Culture Drifted
Your culture is in its present condition for a reason. People with good hearts and great intentions helped create the culture you have today. Seek to understand how the culture got to where it is today.
Study the history of the organization and ask a few people about the different leaders throughout that history and learn a little bit more about them. Ask about their values. When was there a shift, the few degrees that caused a drift from the original vision and culture that put you where you are today?
3. Understand Your Present Culture
Learn more about the organization you serve. Some people may want to keep things the way they are, and there are reasons for that. Look at the people involved and learn why they value the present culture.
If you have long term volunteers or staff that are contributing to culture, why do they value the things that they value. This may help you understand why they resist change. It’s likely an emotional response. It may be a personal experience or something that impacted them at some season in the organization’s history. It may be their comfort level.
Seek to understand the people that have contributed or are contributing to the culture. Why are they resistant to new ideas or change? When you understand their perspective and why it matters to them, it will serve you well as you continue to lead and change elements of the culture.
4. Listen and Listen Well
As leaders, we’re told to slow down, listen, and engage with people. It’s an important reminder, listen, and listen well. As John Maxwell’s says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
If the organization is new or you’re a new leader, or in a newer role, you can easily see the culture issues. You have fresh eyes, and you’re eager to help influence change. When you’ve been in a culture for a while, you often don’t notice the dysfunction.
When you want to influence change, slow down to see people. Make sure you understand everything that’s impacting culture. Listen, listen, and listen well, so people know you genuinely care. Show them that your heart is in the change you’re trying to make. They need to understand your intentions and know that you care about them. When you listen, you build trust, which is going to give you the equity to lead through and influence change.
5. You Need to Recruit Allies
I’m not saying to recruit allies in an adversarial way to build a case for change. Recruiting allies is about finding people who will champion the change. You want to recruit early adopters, people who understand and see the need, but weren’t in a position where they could influence change. Perhaps they lacked confidence, or they didn’t want to rock the boat.
When change is needed, there will be early adopters who will champion the cultural behaviors that you want to influence when you bring them along. I would caution to make sure you’re not a lone ranger. You want people who will join you and walk shoulder to shoulder as you try to lead through change. These allies will help you discern how people are responding to some of your changes.
Allies become valuable to you as you attempt to lead through change and they help speak into the change initiative. You want them to be walking with you and beside you. It’s incredibly valuable to have people who have been there longer than you, or they have a different perspective. They can help you see what you might not always be able to see as you’re leading and influencing change.
The preparation process for leading change is important. Remember, people need to see your heart; they need to understand your intentions; they need to know that you care about them.
Jenni Catron and The 4Sight Group
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Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach who consults churches and non-profits to help them lead from their extraordinary best. She speaks at conferences and churches nationwide, seeking to help others develop their leadership gifts and lead confidently. As Founder and CEO of The 4Sight Group, she consults with individuals and teams on leadership and organizational health.
Jenni is the author of several books, including Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence and The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.