When we think about creating culture change in our organisations, we often start out with a vision. Then we define the behaviours we want to see, and that constitute the culture we have in mind. When this is in place, we ask our employees to BE the change we want to see!
There are always early adopters – some parts of the business that quickly embrace the change – but the majority are much harder to convert. And when the change doesn’t happen as fast as we want, we start to doubt our efforts.
If only there were a secret ingredient!!
When it comes to human behaviour, there is not one, but three secret ingredients:
Ingredient #1 – Change starts with values
The first driver of behaviour is values – things that are so important to us that they influence what we will or won’t do. Values are personal, long-term and cannot be imposed upon us. If the vision and behaviours for the culture change requested of us do not align with our values, then we will only adopt the change under duress. And if we do adopt the change, it isn’t likely to be a long-term thing, because a values conflict feels extremely uncomfortable. Conversely, the more important the value to someone, the harder they will work to uphold it.
Ingredient #2 – Beliefs determine our efforts
For each one of our values, we will have several beliefs, forming the rules for what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. If we have a strong value around safety, for example, then one of its associated beliefs could be that following the rules is the right thing to do. We are therefore much more likely to follow the rules, and insist others do the same.
Believing all accidents are preventable is another belief that might be attached to the value of safety. Whether it’s true or not is irrelevant, because what’s important is the presence of the belief, which ensures action. When we believe that all accidents are preventable, we are much more likely to act to fulfil the belief i.e. to ensure that accidents are indeed prevented.
Another reason beliefs are important is because without them, the mental barrier always gets in the way, no matter how skilled or competent someone is. Look at the example of all the runners who broke the 4-minute barrier for a mile in 1954, but only after Roger Bannister had done it on 6th May, proving it was possible, and thus eradicating the limiting belief that a 4-minute mile wasn’t physically possible.
Ingredient #3 – Emotion is the catalyst for action
What happens then, when values and beliefs are aligned around your culture change and behavioural goals? How does the behavioural change happen? Values and beliefs on their own, when aligned, will increase the likelihood of your employees taking action, but the third and final ingredient is emotion. Now, I know that employees are expected to be logical and rational at work, rather than emotional, but decisions are made based on both logic AND emotion. So, let’s not forget that emotion. When we have employees that are ready to adopt a change, because their values and beliefs allow it, then all that is left is to activate the emotion around the values and beliefs to persuade them to take action.
This is why strong messaging and persuasive communications are essential for any culture change program, using a mixture of logic and emotion to ensure employees remember what’s important, and to act whenever circumstances require it e.g. to intervene if they fear someone might get hurt.
In a nutshell, defining the vision and the required behaviours for the culture change you want is a great starting point, but for your people, it only starts with values and beliefs. Only when the culture change issue is really important to them personally, and has a number of important beliefs attached to it, will there be enough emotion to ensure action.
Add some persuasive communications into the mix, and employees WILL become the change you want to se