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Can a culture change quickly?

This is the fourth in a Series on Organizational Culture, its role, how it is shaped, and how it can be changed.

Culture is changed when expectations and roles are changed. This is especially applicable to the role decision-making plays in a culture.

For example, if a team is having problems meeting expected work output, and an employee has an idea for how to solve that problem, in a hierarchical culture the team would not be able to make any changes without discussing it with their manager first. And their manager may need to discuss it with her manager. This cultural norm significantly slows down decisions and hampers (if not prevents) solving the problem even when viable solutions exist.

When you slow down decision making an unintended consequence is that you reduce the number of decisions that are made.

If we want to better meet customers’ unique needs, we need to alter processes, roles and routines and move decision-making down. In fact, to do this we must alter aspects of our organization’s management system. A management system is an organization’s underlying approach to setting priorities, communicating expectations, monitoring performance, and making adjustments to resources to achieve outcomes. The organization’s management system communicates beliefs and defines expected behaviors – and when we alter those two things we redefine important cultural dimensions.

Every organization has a management system, even if it does not call it that. So whether the system is loosely structured or completely unconscious, a management system communicates culture through the expectations it sets (or does not set) and the behaviors it expects (or does not expect).

Most experts agree that you cannot change culture by simply declaring a new set of behaviors or values as the new norm. Instead, my experience has been that the most effective way to change culture is to change the management system. When you do that you change the routines and the roles. That shift then creates a shift in what’s normal, and that begins shaping new cultural norms. All this, of course, takes time.

One of the best methods for changing expectations through the Now Management System® is created by effectively designed and well-run quarterly business reviews. For example, when measures are in place for a team, and those measures are in “red” or “yellow” at the time of the business review, the team is then expected to report on their progress in using our 7-Step Problem Solving process (or whatever process improvement methodology the organization has selected) to turn that measure to “green.” This quarterly business review routine communicates clear ownership of the problem, the expectation of transparent and focused action, and use of the organization’s methodology for improvement.

Bottom line is that these business reviews create a new pattern of behavior, and that behavior will alter cultural norms as it redefines processes, routines, and roles.

Can resetting expectations and changing culture be done quickly? Compared to interventions other than the NOW Management System, the answer is ”Yes!” Of course it takes time and focus to build the system, create sustainable new routines, and teach people their new roles and behaviors, especially regarding problem solving and decision-making. However, in our experience there are certain techniques and best practices that speed the process of cultural change and move decision-making down to the front line.

“You can see the culture shifting from one quarterly review to the next,” is a sentiment we often hear from leaders. “Our people are learning it’s safe to show that there are problems.”

Does the NOW Management System work? Does it change the culture? Absolutely. Does it take time to make real shifts in culture? Absolutely. Is it compelling and rewarding work? Absolutely!

Coming Up Next: What creates a in an organization to change? Next week I’ll share some thinking I have been doing on that topic.

Video Blog – Process Improvement | Can Culture Change Quickly








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