Why Changing Your Culture Doesn't Work (and what to do about it).

KEITH FERRAZZI  is the world’s foremost expert in professional relationship development. He has transformed the lives and careers of clients and readers worldwide, bringing 20 years of research and experience to the art and science of business relationship development. His signature focus on success through relationships – a deeply energizing passion – has fueled his own incredible rise to prominence.  Both Forbes and Inc. have called him one of the world's most "connected" individuals.  Today, his guest blog challenges the idea of forcing a new culture on business leaders.  

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If you walk into most large companies and say "culture change" you'll get a lot of head shaking and sympathetic looks, but not a lot of buy-in. Too many times they've experienced "the program of the month," with a flurry of town hall meetings, new vocabulary, and new metrics. And then nothing happens.

Change management has long focused on communications--born from the belief that everybody just has to understand the change in order to get there--and driven from the top. And that's so ridiculously wrong. Understanding is necessary, but insufficient. The front lines need to feel it. And top management needs to see that the things people feel in their gut are driving the organization's financial goals.

At Ferrazzi Greenlight, we have developed an entirely new model of behavioral reengineering, which we’re very proud of. Not that we've thrown the communication baby out with the laminated statements and bathwater.

In fact, we've just shifted the focus to communication in support of the right "new way" actions, which tend to happen on the front lines. After the new way has a visceral impact on the front lines, we make sure it gets communicated, no, celebrated, from the top.

Celebrating New Behavior That Drives Small But  Immediate Success

Our action-oriented missions guide participants to make changes in their behavior that immediately have positive impact on their on-the-job lives. The small but successful action comes first, followed by executive communication that celebrates and reinforces that success.

Communications that celebrate these successes also point out how and why they're important to people's future and the company's long-term survival, sure. But the focus is now.

Participants, encouraged by their immediate taste of success, then commit to measurable goals and become the tipping point to drive successful behaviors throughout the organization.

The Principles of Enduring Behavior Change

Key principles behind our new methodology are:

  1. Cultures don't change unless people's behavior changes.
  2. People need a very personal motivation to change: personal growth, more joyful work environment, accelerated careers, etc. No one is going to do this just because the company says so.
  3. Improving collaboration, candor, and accountability accelerates productivity, results and customer zealotry … and makes work more rewarding.
  4. Just like AA and Weight Watchers, sustainability requires peer-to-peer encouragement and accountability.
  5. Change sticks when reinforced by real and immediate workplace success.

Network Analysis Finds Who Needs to Change What

Early on in our process we do an organization network analysis, which breaks the company down into the key groups that need to change. Each of these groups has their own definitions and language of success, and our communications need to speak to what they already believe is important. In each constituency's own words, what needs to change and why should they give a damn?

We find we capture attention and motivate participation best by telling people what their peers are doing to achieve success. Think of the biggest challenge management could face: motivating a 14-year-old boy to change.

If I tell him to brush his teeth, he couldn't care less. But if I tell him about another 14-year-old boy who likes girls and brushes his teeth and consequently is getting dates, then he might listen to me, right?

Putting someone's peer in the limelight -- a peer who is getting accolades and results -- is very motivating. Getting paid more, getting the girl. I don’t care what the results are that matter, but the point is, they have to be results that matter to the constituency. This peer-to-peer mirroring of success is far more motivating than the "Do this because your management says it's important" communication of the past.

We Also Tell Executives Why They Should Give a Damn

Don't confuse messaging with true communication: they’re not the same thing. We do a lot of coaching with executives on this score. We make sure they’re having dialogues and really communicating with their teams.

Our stories for executive constituencies tend to highlight executives who have driven change through running team meetings differently. So many executives think "Oh, I sent the e-mail, I’m done communicating." But that is just the beginning, really.

By peer-to-peer sharing of success stories using the language and priorities of each constituency group, we build positive change into every level of the organization that needs to change.

Doing all of this isn't easy. It takes time to build the level of comfort needed with our clients to convince them to integrate this new style of communication into everyone's day-to-day lives. We can write a really clear brief, and build a tactical plan, and catalogue all of our success stories, and think we are doing a great job. But until execs step up to the communications challenge, no real change occurs.

I can’t let clients fail themselves based on their own close-to-the-vest behaviors and inadequate communications processes. So how do we get the top of the organization to celebrate successes regularly, framed in the words that matter, and keep at it relentlessly so that progress continues?

By speaking the top of the organization's language of success, of course, and that's focused on achieving quantitative goals.

Earlier I said early successes must drive towards measurable goals, right? That's so we can motivate top management with financial results. All of this is part of something we call the relationship profit chain, to which I'll return in a future post.

What would motivate the people in your organization to change, and how would they express it?

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BusinessStephen Palacino