Creating a Culture of Change

A recent project I’ve been partcipating in, seeks to shift the culture of various Communities of Interest to one that focuses more on the virtues of the individuals and their willingness to grow from a more spiritual perspective. While not every project is about becoming more spiritual, it is clear that people will generally rise more willingly to their capacity when we see them as capable and help them to feel good about themselves.

The human brain learns through observation, immitation and immersion. In other words, part of what we learn is what people tell us, but mostly we pick up the characteristics that we are surrounded by, usually from early in life. In almost every case, our parents, in the hope of protecting us, tell us all the things we can’t or shouldn’t do and often fail to mention all the things we can potentially do. We learn to think in limiting terms and we learn that we help others to learn by teach them limits. This is natural but not necessarily the best way to progress. Just like every other form of progress, it requires learning from old methods and replacing them with new ideas and methods.

Changing a culture is about shifting the orgininal trend that most of us have grown up with. It is about helping people to focus on their capacity, rather than their limitations, and it is about helping them to make efforts and use their efforts to learn and build capacity rather than fear and it is about helping them to go beyond preconcieved boundaries.

There are specific skills, concepts, habits, attitudes and actions that people will begin to adopt in a changing culture, or rather a Culture of Change.

For example, a concept that might need to be learned is the concept of each person being responsible for sharing the culture with others. While this is not a difficult concept to understand, it can be intimidating if presented in the wrong way and may have the opposite effect of having people withdraw their support from a change initiative. However, if it is presented skillfully, this concept helps people understand the vision of change and make it easier to accept that fact that change and growth are linked together and that both are desirable for any company and any person that wants to have a long term survival plan in an ever changing world. Another important concept is that in a changing culture, not everyone needs to play the same role in the change initiative. The only thing that is mandatory is that every takes on a contributing role. 

One skill required for cultural change is learning how to present information so that it is more easily accepted by others. Even though we may start off not knowing how to help people change, by trying, practicing and being mentored, eventually those skills are learned. We learn things like when to talk to someone about change and when not to. We learn what to say and what not to. In creating sustainable organizations, there are also skills specifically related to organizational function that will also need to be upgrade. As mentioned in the concept, each person needs to contribute to the change but not everyone needs to contribute in the same way.

An attitude required for cultural change is heartfelt acceptance of the underlying principles of the change and a realization that changes in behaviour are both good and necessary for the organization. Another attitude is one of being courageous and overcoming fear. In any change, wherever a role is shifting, where we are learning new skills, we begin to feel like beginners again. And with starting over, we lose the sense of confidence we once had. We begin to doubt our capabilities and our stability in the organization. However, if an organization consistently establishes a culture of change, indivduals begin to recognize that one of their core skills and strengths is their ability to adapt to new situations. Even though they may have to learn new hard skills, certain soft skills become inherent in the way they operate. Employees become valuable to the organization simply because they know how to shift with organization rather than resisting every move.

Habits of a sustaintable culture may include things reflecting on every action to find the learning. Other habits may include those of self-study, self-improvement, self-reliance, serving others, humbly sharing with and learning from others. As we begin to adopt a sustainable culture, other habits evolve such as striving each day to create practical new approaches for reducing energy consumption, to take fewer steps in a process, to recycle more, and to measure environmental impact for the purpose of making it smaller over time.

Actions may include things like sharing, mentoring, training, learning, reflecting and chosing a specific change related service to help others to adapt.

All the best,
Garth Schmalenberg

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