How to Create a Positive Culture & Overcome Resistance to Change.

If you’ve ever tried to change the culture of any organization, you know that it can be tough and you’re likely to run into resistance. The fact is that 70% of change initiatives fail and you don’t want to be another of those cautionary tales, so let’s talk about how to be in the 30% success category.

What is Culture?

In a nutshell, culture is how people think and behave in your organization. This includes the intangible aspects of unwritten rules and social norms, as well as the tangible elements, such as logos, mission statements, dress codes, and language. Culture is often invisible because so implicitly and explicitly embedded into an organization…that is, until you try to change it…

So, how’s the culture at your organization?

If you think it’s fine, ask yourself:

  • Is your organization reaching its absolute potential?
  • Is your organization flourishing?
  • Is your organization operating at levels of extraordinary excellence?

If you’re like most people I ask, you answered no to at least one of these questions, and your organization might benefit from a shift towards a positive culture.

Research Reveals that Positive Work Cultures Perform at Significantly Higher Levels.

Case in point, a study about the turnaround of a General Motors plant in Fremont, California.

Plagued by plummeting productivity, sales, quality, and customer service, the plant closed. The negative culture contributed to an absentee rate of 20%; 5,000 employee grievances a year; and regular employee walk-offs—yikes!

Eighteen months later, thanks to Toyota sharing their lean manufacturing process, the GM plant reopened…and a full-scale culture shift occurred. Absenteeism dropped to 2%; employees didn’t strike; and productivity, sales, quality, and customer service soared. Wow!

John Shook, one of the consultants involved in this culture change, outlined what changed: employees were empowered through ownership of quality by processes that supported them instead of punishing them for performing their job. In fact, employees were so committed to their cause that one GM plant worker would leave his business card on the models he built when he saw them around town. On the back of the card he wrote, “I made your car. Any problems, call me.” The empowering change in process made him feel personally responsible for the product he built. What a culture shift!

So, How You Can Create a Flourishing Positive Culture?

World-renowned positive organizational researcher, Kim Cameron, has identified several steps to

creating a flourishing culture. In this post, we’ll focus on the first two, and in the next post, we’ll cover the rest.

1. Prepare your organization for the shift.

According to Cameron, there are two ways to accomplish this:

– Comparison Shopping

Benchmark where your organization is compared with where you want it to be. This paves the way for a culture change by showing people what’s possible and opens the door to doing things differently to reach your goal.  

– Watch the Language

Before you start saying this is woo-woo, let me assure you it’s backed by research. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology found he could predict performance of a baseball team based on language. Moreover, researchers Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus noted that the most accomplished leaders, across multiple industries, substitute the word “failure” with “false start,” “stumble,” “temporary slow-down,” and “miscue.”

The story you’re telling yourself matters because your words become your reality. For example, Disney has Central Casting instead of Human Resources and refers to employees as cast members. The Ritz Carlton reinforces its culture of excellence by referring to employees as ladies and gentlemen, and other organizations speak of employees as though they are family.

2. Handle resistance to change.

Resistance to change is inevitable. Your mission as a positive leader is to navigate the resistance and transform it into fuel for positive change through two key actions.

First, reduce resistance to change, using these three well-known techniques:

  • Involve the people whom the change will impact to create buy-in and include them in the process to make them feel valued.
  • Find common ground to create opportunities for growth and forward momentum.
  • Reassure people what will remain the same to create a sense of security and familiarity.

Second, build momentum around the driving force for change.

  • Clearly articulate the benefits of change by providing examples and evidence that the positive culture will lead to a flourishing organization and better experience for all.
  • Get buy-in at the highest levels and look for champions at all levels who can help integrate the new culture throughout the organization.
  • Identify the core values driving this change because peopleare more apt to follow leaders who are consistent in their values and beliefs.

So, there you have it – the foundational pieces to start shifting towards a positive culture in your organization. You know how to lay the groundwork for the change, and you have the tools to successfully navigate resistance and emerge stronger with everyone on board.

If you want a deeper discussion on this topic, check out my podcast episode, How to Create a Positive Culture & Overcome Resistance to Change.

And, look out for my next post where we’ll dive into the next phase of your culture shift which involves creating an aspirational vision for the organization, developing commitment, and maintaining and sustaining change. Keep your questions, challenges, and stories about positive leadership coming to me at [email protected].

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