When organizations need to change, they generally set up task teams to handle all the various aspects of the change. People, processes, finance, HR, branding & marketing and culture. Culture is usually seen as simply a part of the puzzle. However, as Lou Gerstner said in his book “Who says elephants can’t dance?”:
I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game. – Lou Gerstner, Jr.
Culture is not something you can simply change. You can’t just put a few pithy sayings up on the walls and expect there to be a shift. You can’t leave it to HR to come up with a plan and just implement it the same way you’d roll out training on a new software system. You don’t go sit in a room somewhere with all the execs and conjure up this magical “unicorns and rainbows’ culture that’s going to galvanize your ‘resources’ to deliver on you company strategy.
Culture is the people. It’s the interactions between them. It’s the way we speak to each other, the way we think about each other and the things we do together. It’s as complex as the human DNA because it is a reflection of the human DNA. Nations develop their cultures through the way they organize themselves, through the way they speak, through their collective beliefs. Events that happen to nations shape their culture further. Culture is what makes groups interesting and unique. It’s what evolves in a complex, ever-changing system.
So why do leaders think they can simply come up with a new culture, develop a change management plan and “BOOM”, we’re all singing the new corporate song? Not only is this ridiculous, but it’s condescending to the people in the company and it smacks of command-and-control. The implication is that people are all just resources, or cogs, so moving to a different kind of lubrication will make the machine suddenly perform better.
If you’re a leader and want to change the culture, change yourself first. Become the leader that inspires people to follow you. You can only lead the change from in front – you can’t shout instructions to your team from the sidelines.