Culture and change: The crucial ingredients required for positive change - HR Future helps people prepare for the Future of Work and is South Africa's leading print, digital and online Human Resources magazine.

Culture and change: The crucial ingredients required for positive change


Change is important for any company wishing to grow and prosper. In the previous two articles on this subject of change,

the mathematics of change, we’ve seen the importance of understanding what change is and compared it to the cheese making process: change is like making cheese. We also touched on the vital role the leader (i.e. Big Cheese) has on the culture and change initiatives in the company. The other aspects are also important, but they can only be touched on if the leader has done his or her part. Let us explore the other aspects in the change equation.

Apart from the manager or leader, there are some crucial ingredients that make change effective. They are the employees and the team. Is there a dysfunctional culture that needs to be eliminated or new culture to be added? Do you as manager really realise how important it is to understand the employees in your team?

For cheese making the basic ingredients are the milk and the culture. In our workplace and organisations the main ingredients are the employees and the culture of the team or organisation.

The type of milk (goat’s milk, cow’s milk, low fat milk, full cream milk) will determine the quality and properties of the cheese. The same goes for the culture you are building in your company. The quality and type of employees you hire will determine the culture. You do not want “bad bacteria” in your milk. In the same way you do not want “bad behaviour” in your employees. One litre of ‘bad’ milk will affect the entire batch of cheese. I have seen the same happening in organisations with one toxic employee or team.

The graphic design company I coached experienced the impact one person can have on a group. I came in to consult with them after one of their employees caused chaos and then moved on to another company. It took them a year to move out of the negativity and judgemental behaviour that this one person had created in the office.

Make right hiring and firing decisions. It is very hard to eliminate toxic employee. First, find out why certain people are so disengaged before choosing elimination. Know where your boundaries are and make the tough choices when needed. Then add the right employees – focus on the big things. There should be less focus on the details of gender, age, qualifications, although the employee does need the basic skills. Rather look at the attitude that you need in your team or culture. Ask the difficult questions, for example, “What will you do when your boss gives you an instruction that goes against the ethics of the company? Does this employee have a growth mindset? Is this employee open to new ways of doing things?”

The individuals in teams are presented with challenges every day of every week. These challenges may include cognitive, behavioural, resource, motivational and political issues. Your team only needs to focus on a few critical shifts in their behaviour. Choose your battles wisely. Which of these challenges has the highest impact?

In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek says “There are only two ways to influence human behaviour: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it”. If you want to build lasting changes, everyone involved must understand why it is in their best interest to help make these changes happen. Engage the team in the process. Remember change is a scary thing for the brain, and most of your employees and team members will have an “Away State” as coined by David Rock in his SCARF model. An Away State is similar to the Flight or Fight response. Your brain is not utilized effectively and will want to urge your body to run away or resist this change process. The process of business coaching can assist your employees with this transition.

Coming back to the analogy of cheese making; cheese culture is very sensitive to changes in the temperature, if you heat up the mixture too fast or too slowly, you will not get the desired product. The cheese maker controls the temperature continuously. In the same way you as leader must not heat up the temperature too quickly or too much for your team, you need to be sensitive to the environment and introduce the change aspects as and when the team is ready - or fast-track the team’s readiness, for example through team coaching, so that you get them involved in the change process, which will allow you to increase the rate of change.

Changes and culture start with the individuals. Does the motivation for change align with the values of each individual? Remember the old culture is hard-wired in each person’s brain and good habits were formed within the old culture. New culture means new brain wiring and maybe a new habit or two. This has to be ingrained to make the change sustainable. The brain should not focus on too much change at once. Limit the amount of change and first ensure that part one is sustainably implemented before the next batch of behaviours is addressed. Understanding each individual’s values and talents can aid in speeding up the change process. After all, a professional cheese maker knows the ingredients well! The Gallup’s Clifton Strengtfinder tool is one of the best I have found for understanding teams. Having a qualified facilitator can unlock the typical conflict areas in the team, but can also open up the possible synergies locked up in your team combinations.

In conclusion

Honour the strengths of your existing culture. What does it mean for the individual? Are you able to make the impact practical? Are the changes tangible for each and every employee?

Wilmien Davis is a Member of the International Coach Federation (ICF).

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