Culture Change: In the Beginning Was Drama

Drama, whether it’s negativity, absenteeism, or turnover, is almost always a precursor to culture change. Culture change is never sought when all is well.

Where there is drama, the first tendency is to nip drama in the bud, but nipping drama in the bud is like clipping the bloom off of a dandelion. The root system spreads even though the flower is gone. If culture is a set of beliefs that govern behavior—the root is the belief and the bloom is the behaviors. In short, all you have to do is look at the observable behaviors to learn about the belief system contributing to the culture. Here are some common examples:

  • An employee that hides information from his supervisor is an employee behavior rooted in a belief that his supervisor cannot handle bad news.
  • Letting a high-performer get by with bullying, is a managerial behavior rooted in a belief that it’s OK to make exceptions for character defects but not for performance defects.
  • Promoting a technical performer who is not respected, or who has very little relationship building skill is an executive behavior rooted in the belief that soft skills are nice but not necessary.
  • Leaders who fail to communicate impending changes is a leadership behavior rooted in the belief that communication is “soft” instead of strategic.

These beliefs that influence behavior are cultural issues leading to unwanted results. Let’s expand on the above examples:

Employees hide information from their bosses all the time, especially if the boss is a hot-head or has trouble handling bad news. Yet, hiding information contributes to faulty decision-making.

Managers often ignore bad behaviors when the one misbehaving is a rain-maker. However, letting a bully get away with incivility leads to lowered morale, absenteeism and turnover.

Leaders at all levels avoid difficult conversations for many reasons. The problem has gone on too long, or the leader is not trained in handling conflict, or it’s the company picnic and timing is off. The longer the problems continue, the more difficult to approach the subject, yet, the conversation avoided today becomes the law suit ten years later.

A high performer may be great at getting the job done, yet lack the ability to get things done through others, yet more often than not individuals are promoted due to technical skills rather than due to their potential to lead. Promoting a technical performer who cannot lead sets a standard for future leaders.

Employees know when something is about to change, yet time after time they are kept out of the loop. If you want to increase trust, you must keep your employees informed. Failing to keep employees updated on new strategic initiatives causes confusion that leads to office gossip.

All dysfunctional beliefs eventually leads to drama. Drama leads to the desire for culture change.

Culture change always involves at least three things: Beliefs, behaviors, and thought leaders. The beliefs which are invisible, the behaviors which are visible, and a thought leader who has the vision and willingness to initiate the change.

Changing culture is about shifting the collective beliefs whether the culture in question is the team, a department or the entire corporation. Culture change starts with a thought leader with enough clarity and courage to strategically demonstrate the new belief systems through their own alignment for there to be enough momentum for others to follow.