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Is your business trying to evoke a culture change? Start by altering behaviours

3 min read

21 December 2016

A company I worked with launched a new customer relationship management system. The business invested large amounts of time and money into producing and launching it, but only 20 per cent of staff used it. Why was this? While attempting culture change, the company hadn't taken staff behaviours into account.

Whilst it was effective, the project team had not considered the effects of people not adopting it properly, which consequently led to a lack of return on investment. The leaders wanted an immediate culture change but didn’t outline how they wanted employees to use the system or how they would incentivise people for adopting the system.

It is examples like this that practitioners including myself come across more and more often, prompting us to highlight the importance of changing behaviours as the key to successful culture change. Decisions, new systems and processes which are designed as platforms of change are unlikely to be sustained unless behaviours are changed from the outset.

In his book Viral Change, Leandro Herrero discusses how behaviours are misplaced in the equation for change. He suggests that “new processes and systems do not create behaviours in a sustainable way. Evan an initial peak of positive reaction is often followed by fading interest and low adoption. On the contrary, we need to have those behaviours in the organisation first, in order to sustain a new process!”

So, if we need to consider behaviours at the forefront of any change, where do we start?

Although this may seem daunting, in reality, businesses just need to move away from a broad concept which is easily open to interpretation, and instead introduce a small set of very specific desirable behaviours which are simple to adopt and follow. There are two key questions to ask before introducing this change.

1) What new behaviours are required?

When introducing new processes and systems, it is important to consider what the future will look like and what behaviours are required to produce and sustain such change.

2) How will these new behaviours be rewarded?

Behaviours can be triggered by a large number of factors, but often they will only be sustained and controlled through how they are or are not rewarded.

Beyond rewarding and incentivising, it is clear that the presence of role models has an effect on the way people behave. It is my belief that line managers are the most important leaders in an organisation, as in the eyes of each staff member, their manager is the most important person in the organisation. According to LPI data (theleadershipchallenge.com) leaders’ behaviours account for around a quarter of how productive, energised and motivated an employee is.

To summarise, a successful culture change relies on a focus on behaviours from the start, and such behaviours need to be role modelled and incentivised.

Stephen Fortune is a principal consultant at the Oxford Group 

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