As many of you know, I love talking about anthropology—specifically, how corporate leaders can apply its tools and methodology to bring about culture change, greater success and bigger profits. But, change is hard. In many cases, change is literally pain. The brain actually fights it, which is why real, lasting change is so difficult to come by. As a culture change expert, I see this all the time with clients. But the good news is that yes, change can happen! And with a little guidance, you can actually make it stick. Yes, indeed you can drive change.
In my recent interview with Thomas Fox, these concepts are exactly what we talked about—anthropology and culture change and how each influences the other. As I explained to him, in a corporate setting, leaders espouse values, beliefs and expectations so people know what to do and how to get it done. Everything is fine until something begins to change and then that culture must change, too.
But knowing how to "do" culture change can be tricky. To help businesses achieve success, I offered the following six steps (abbreviated here):
6 steps for achieving successful culture change
Step 1: What is your culture today? Think about what you value in terms of six key areas: dominant characteristics; organizational leadership; management of employees; the glue that holds the organization together; strategic emphases; and criteria of success. At SAMC, we use the Organizational Cultural Assessment tool to evaluate companies and determine what their culture is today. Is your organization entrepreneurial, innovative, nurturing or hierarchical and competitive? Do you value teamwork or is it every man/woman for themselves?
Step 2: What should your culture be tomorrow? Consider what you want your culture to become. Should it be less controlling and more empowering? More results-oriented or more collegial? Do rules “rule” or are you open for new ideas from empowered staff members? Understanding where you are now allows you to focus on where you want to go. If your culture is very top-down, you may need to move to a more open culture. Conversely an entrepreneurial culture may want or need more structure.
Step 3: Tell a story. With your staff, tell a story about what the culture is today. Encourage them to create a visualization of how you get things done by creating a "Story of How.” This helps you see what you could become if in fact you could change. All of you working together need to tell the story of where you want to go and how you will achieve it.
Step 4: Visualize tomorrow. What will tomorrow’s culture feel like? Will people be enabled to make decisions and risk making mistakes? Once you and your staff have visualized tomorrow, you’ve then got to figure out how it will feel. What will you do more of, or less of?
Step 5: Create pilot experiments. Through these exercises, your folks will begin to see how the new culture is actually going to feel when they live it. Set up some small win situations for them to test it out. Think of it as improvisation with good rehearsal time. You are asking people to change what they value, their beliefs and their behaviors. That’s not easy and it’s full of risk. Team participation and mutual support are key.
Step 6: Celebrate. People need symbols and they need to celebrate and share experiences. Think seriously about which rituals you will no longer do and which new ones you will introduce. Be careful, though—things that didn’t seem important can be very sacred to people when you are taking them away.
Want to learn more? Here are 4 great ways:
- White Paper: What Is Corporate Anthropology?
- On The Brink podcast: How To Think Like An Anthropologist
- On The Brink podcast: How Anthropology Helps People See Things With Fresh Eyes
- Blog: Want To Change Your Organization? Make It Like An Exciting Play.
Does your culture need changing? Could a "little anthropology" help?
At Simon Associates Management Consultants, we specialize in helping companies learn how to integrate anthropology into their business strategies so they can adapt to changing times. Please contact us for a free 1-hour consultation to discuss how we might help your organization adapt and thrive. We look forward to hearing from you.
From Observation to Innovation,
Andi Simon, Ph.D.
Corporate Anthropologist | President
Simon Associates Management Consultants