Archive for February, 2009

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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What in the World is going on?

Except for organizations, individuals or businesses that see themselves as being from other worlds, it is probably a good idea if the rest of us pay close attention to what’s going on in this world.

Paying attention to bad things, however, only heightens our awareness of the negatives and does little for making the world a better and healthier place to live. As human beings, it’s easy and natural to dwell on the negatives. The brain is designed to shortcut the thinking process by noticing abnormalities in our surroundings and then problem solving them to find solutions. There is a limit to the amount of awareness we can have towards our surroundings without driving ourselves crazy and this is one of the brain’s strategies to limit input.

Unfortunately, this also means that only about 40% of people are motivated by positive goals. The rest are motivated by becoming aware of problems and then finding solutions to those problems. On the down side of this statistic is the fact that focusing on the problems doesn’t really help us on bigger issues that are not immediately perceptible to our self-focused emotions. In other words, if the problem doesn’t immediately injure us or make us feel bad, we don’t really notice how serious it is. This explains why we don’t do much about issues which afflict other people in the world such as starvation, AIDs, homelessness and climate change. The impact to us as individuals in North America is not so immediate that we feel an urgent need to change what we are doing.

So the question is this, if we want to solve the more complex problems of the world, and even more importantly, start working towards a world that is a genuinely healthy place for all it’s inhabitants, how do we make ourselves more aware of the problems faced by others in a way that creates an immediate and personal impact? How do we change the way we percieve these challenges and opportunities?

As organizational leaders, we have an opportunity to educate people. This is part of the solution but not the complete solution. If we can find a way to change the entire culture of our organizations so that they become pro-active, rather than re-active, united in action rather than dis-united, long term and short term thinking rather than only short term, wouldn’t we do that, especially if there is no real down side?

Here are some examples of thinking from a personal perspective vs. from a world perspective:

1) The Economy

Let’s say we work for GM and we are concerned about loosing our job or pension. It is only natural, that we would experience fear and concern. We would naturally be motivated to vote for someone if they showed concern for us and promised that they would specifically take actions to help save our jobs. From a direct and personal emotional stance, this is the most striking problem we may be facing and finding an immediate fix is what we will naturally want to do.

The question I would pose, is this, “Is it the right thing to do and will it benefit us in the long term?”

Here are some thoughts:

a) An individual living in the USA, Canada or Europe for the most part will always have a better standard of living than most people in the world based on our current and immediate observations. Even though we might have fears about our financial situation, it’s not too hard to conclude that the vast majority will somehow survive in relative comfort. We have all been relatively well educated. We can read and write, we have some skills that we’ve gained over our years of work. We have some social safety net and we are collectively able to produce more than enough for our family and therefore are able to create products and services to export or sell to others.

b) In many other countries there is relatively little education. War is rampant, women are raped regularly, children die from malnutrition and disease and people live in dire poverty. They have very little ability to solve even their most fundamental problems.

c) It is only by the grace of God we were born into our own good fortune. After all, how is it decided what your fate will be? If we had been born into that situation, we would also lack an education and the capacity to solve our own challenges. Most of us would find it impossible to imagine ourselves in this situation even for one day when many are faced with this on a daily basis throughout their entire lives. If we were able to get a sense of what this is like, our minds might begin to see this as a more pervasive and serious problem and, in that case, we would naturally start to look for solutions because we would be emotionally motivated to do so.

The challenge is that the emotional pain is separated by geographic, personal and political boundaries from the source of the solutions, namely those who are so fortunate to enjoy the benefits of education.

Let’s think about this a little more. If you think of the world as a whole organic entity, we might think of the individuals and families as cells, the businesses as organs that process the good and provide services to the body, transports systems as the arteries, governments of the world as the skeletal framework, military as th protective layer (i.e. the skin), the information transfer mechanisms, internet, telephone, journalists, librarys, teachers as the nervous system. Looking at the world from that perspective we would have to look at the economy as being lopsided with a fat belly (e.g. first world nations) with mal-nourished limbs. We might see economic cycles as binging and purging, not a very healthy behavior. We might see consumption of our own irreplacable resources as a flesh eating disease and war as an auto-immune disease where one part of the body is trying to kill the other part.

Now looking at it from this perspective, it’s difficult to conclude that putting money back into the fat of the world to continue feeding it and making even fatter, makes any sense. if you had 1 billion dollars to spend, would it be better for the world in the long run to spend it on a car company that is having challenges selling the amount of product it is capable of producing, or would it be better to spend that same billion dollars on educating people to become teachers and then sending those teacher to places where education is desparately required so that other parts of the world can become more self sustainting?

In the end, those other parts of the world, as they become viable and healthy economies, also begin to sustain us.

If each of us was able to feel emotionally the anguish of someone who lives in poverty, would we be more likely to focus on different solutions?

It is wonderful that Barack Obama has called upon all people to take personal responsibility for their own situations. I suspect that he’s quite aware of the needs of the world but as a leader of the US has specific responsibilities. I can only hope that he and other western leaders will begin to focus more of the wealth and resources on creating a sustainable world, not just a sustainable economy for their own countries.

We all need to make an effort to become conscious and start to feel and think on a global basis. Yes, you will always be most aware of your own pains first. This is natural. But by envisioning what the world is really like for people who are less fortunate and then striving to solve there challenges, we ulitmately benefit ourselves as well.

Granted, this is a simplification of how the world works. But if the world is ever to become truly healthy, there is a need for a much greater global consciousness.

In the words of 19th century visionary and prophet founder of the Baha’i faith, Baha’u'llah, “Let your vision be world embracing…”

Garth Schmalenberg

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