Accelerate for Cultural Change

Visualized by Rose Fastus

Building culture means change. There are a lot of models for change out there, but for the work we pursue around building a culture of quality and excellence I think there are few better than John Kotter’s model.

Kotter sets forth Eight Accelerators of Change which can be leveraged in cultural change:

AcceleratorFocus when building Culture
Create a Sense of Urgency around a
Big Opportunity
The urgency here is the strategic threats from having a less-than-robust quality culture and the opportunities it creates. This is the True North. With this accelerator working, large groups of people are committed to building and improving a culture of quality.

The translation of the sense of urgency from leadership down to the working level is a constant need. People must understand the argument laid out by leadership, but it needs to be linked with their own needs and less about the business need 5 years out. This is pretty fundamental, if folks don’t see how the culture vision will make immediate changes to their work then it will never be prioritized.

It is advantageous to have several different facets of this urgency that might appear to different segments in the organization. Manufacturing may be focused on human error reduction while research is excited around innovation. Both are moving forward in a similar direction.
Build and evolve a guiding coalitionYou need a coalition throughout the organization deeply committed to a culture of quality and the benefits it will bring. Culture will never happen when it is viewed as a quality initiative only. Ideally there will be lots of branches and initiatives moving in the same direction. Communicating between these elements of the change initiatives and leveraging between initiatives is vital.

This is about fostering an environment that turns around the big opportunity and gives the member the opportunity to be different and creative. As a result, the participants of the coalition will find ways to work together different from their ordinary habits. This will increase the speed of decision-making and enables the organization to be more agile.
Form a change vision and strategic initiativesArticulating the vision of culture shows a fit to strategic opportunities can move you with speed and agility to that vision. By choosing a few strategic opportunities around culture you can move quickly to them.
Enlist a volunteer armyCommunicate in ways that lead large numbers of people to buy into the vision and want to help. You want to excite and mobilize as many active and passive members of the organization as possible.
Enable action by removing barriersWork swiftly to achieve initiatives and continue to find new ones that are strategically relevant. Identify barriers that are slowing down the growth of a quality culture and remove them.
Generate (and celebrate) short-term winsLook for wins big and most specially small and celebrate them. These wins, and their celebration, have psychological power and play a crucial role in building and sustaining culture transformation. The created credibility helps to develop a certain standing for the network within the organization and can also convince people, who did not have a positive attitude towards the network before.
Sustain accelerationDon’t let a few wins slow you down. Keep going, keep growing, keep doing and celebrating. his accelerator helps to keep the spirit within the employees up and motivates them further to strive for the big opportunity of developing and reaping the benefits of a quality culture.
Institute changeInstitutionalize the changes in process and procedure, in way of working and behavior.
Kotter’s 8 Accelerators of Change

Kotter also lists five principles:

PrincipleExplanation
Many people active in the change, not just the
usual few folks
The engagement of a large number of people for part-time involvement in the change, as opposed to relying on the same few people to work it full time.
A want-to and a get-to (not just a
have-to) mind-set
People need to want to be change agents and feel that as change agents they have the power to make the change happen. They need to have the ‘spirit of volunteerism” and there needs to be enthusiasm for quality and excellence.
Action that is head and heart drivenPeople need to be motivated to participate not only by logical arguments based on a business case. Rather there must be an emotional element that drives their engagement.

The Burning Platform element of Culture will undoubtedly speak to the head but also must speak to the heart. In the pharmaceutical industry the Heart elements of the burning platform could include getting medicines to market quicker for the patient as well as making workers lives better.

Sensemaking and storytelling are key.
Much more leadership, not just
more management
Leadership is about vision and inspired action and management is about project management and budget reviews. The secondary operating system needs more of the former.

Democratic leadership, utilizing reflection and feedback is critical for the leader to maintain behaviors that support the change idea and do not contradict it.
Two systems, one organizationThe network and the hierarchy must be inseparable and in constant communication. The idea of a network approach to change is critical here.. Change needs to sit next to traditional ways of working to truly be able to make a difference.

The network has a start-up character, which allows working flexible and agile on the change process and taking fast decisions.
Kotter’s Five Principles for Change

Creating the Movement

A central element of Kotter’s Accelerators is the secondary operating system which relies on a volunteer group of people who are there to propagate the change. These people don’t just magically appear, they are somehow motivated to get involved. How does an organization create the spirit of volunteerism, especially when most employees are disengaged from their organizations?

People will volunteer because they either want to do something for themselves or they want to do something for others.

Self-Enhancement

If someone wants to do something for themselves they are seeking self-enhancement. Self-Enhancement is the desire or observed reality of seeing oneself and by extension one’s actions, traits, and attitudes in the most positive light which can be an attempt to increase status and relationships with the leaders within the organization. This is a primary driver of engagement and behavior change.

Another element of the self-enhancement motive which plays into the formation of the volunteer army is whether we see this group as being part of the inner circle or a favorable group in the eyes of other high status people in the organization. This can be a driver to join the group and once joined we invariably see the group in a positive light and others not in the group are ‘black sheep’. Having the right leadership champions who talk about the efforts is critical.

Pro-Social and Intrinsic Motivation

Pro-social motivation means that the employee sees how their contributions have a positive impact. The underlying driver of this motivation can be because the employee feels it’s the right thing, because they care about the people who would benefit, and because it helps them maintain membership in a group

Intrinsic motivation, as the name suggests, comes from the areas of interest that people have within themselves and the desire to pursue those interests. When someone is intrinsically motivated they are more creative, motivated, and show greater persistence towards complex problems.

We want to be at the intersection of intrinsic motivation and pro-social motivation. Prosocial motivation strengthens and directs intrinsic motivation to be more useful.

Perspective taking, the cognitive process in which individuals adopt others’ viewpoints in an attempt to understand their preferences, values and needs, is a key element in developing pro-social motivation Perspective taking gives a framework to decide what ideas are more useful. If functionally diverse groups of employees can be given opportunities to discuss the strategic imperatives together and with immediate customers they can then find those areas which interest them at the same time they see the possible benefits. This may motivate them to get involved.

Kotter’s Eight Accelerators of change tell us to develop as many change agents and to do this people have to want to get involved and wanting to get involved is both a cognitive and emotional process. This ‘wanting to’ is really our intrinsic and pro-social motivations. Those motivations are stoked in several ways, such as by leadership and the vision they put forth. This vision may be better assimilated if employees have contact with its beneficiaries both internal and external, to see and hear their needs and how elements of the vision may have had a positive effect. This enhances leadership’s credibility with respect to their vision and also plays on the availability bias we all have towards strong examples. Additionally motivations are developed by perspective taking of others, so if employees know the needs of others this helps them filter creative ideas generated via their intrinsic motivation towards useful ideas that they will act on. These motivations must override our natural human tendency to be loss averse and to overweigh unlikely outcomes.

Leadership

The leadership of this volunteer army should be democratic. This style is critical to provide credibility to the vision of transforming culture, otherwise employees just hear new rhetoric which isn’t backed up by action.

There is a great opportunity here to shape the culture transformation as a development opportunity for people, allowing them the time to pursue it and coaching them through the process.

Leaders need to avoid extremely negative or extremely positive language, instead using vocabulary that is more neutral and does not try to seduce people by just manipulating the language.

Storytelling should be used but with the intention of reframing messages about the change and the organization.

Sources

  • Ackoff, R. L., Magidson, J., & Addison, H. J. (2006). Idealized Design: Creating an Organization’s Future. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Grant, A. M. (2012). Leading with Meaning: Beneficiary Contact, Prosocial Impact, and the Performance Effects of Transformational Leadership. Academy of Management, 458-476.
  • Grant, A. M., & Berry, J. W. (2011). The necessity of others is the mother of invention: Instrinsic and Prosocial Motiviations, Perspective Taking and Creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 73-96.
  • Kotter, John P. (2002). The Heart of Change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
  • Kotter, John P. (2014). Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
  • Kotter, John P. (2016). That’s Not How We Do It Here!: A Story about How Organizations Rise and Fall–and Can Rise Again. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Embracing Differences interview with Amy Edmondson

Great interview with Professor Edmondson on Embracing Differences on psychological safety.

There’s a tension because especially in very hierarchical systems they’re quite worried about being and looking competent and at the same time their real performance, their real safety, their longer-term survivability is based on the ability to keep getting better and to be almost unnaturally observant and attentive to failures, little mishaps in processes a weakness. So, for high-risk organizations, they need to be just unnaturally attentive to the things that go wrong but that can feel very much at odds with looking good and with looking like performance. So, one could actually say that the real tensions between the appearance of performance and learning that real performance and particularly overtime, is in fact dependent on about learning.

Questioning Assumptions on Emotional Intelligence

There is a lot of pop psychology, outdated science and just questionable assumptions in business circles, including quality thought. It is important for us to critically engage with this material.

The Repressive Politics of Emotional Intelligence” by Professor Merve Emre is a must read on the shaky underpinnings of emotional intelligence. I enjoyed this discussion of the problematic politics behind Goleman’s work. Professor Emre is also the author of The Personality Brokers, another important book that lays bare all the pseudoscience and problems behind the MBTI and other tests companies love so well.

Dave Snowden wrote last week on the Woozle Effect, which hits the issue right on the head. The Woozle effect is something we need to be very concerned about as concepts enter our practice.

I recommend reading both pieces, they fit nicely together.

Process and procedure complexity

People are at the heart of any organization. They set the organization’s goals, they manage it, they deal with suppliers and customers and they work together to produce results.

We manage this by processes. Process are on a continuum by how complicated and complex they are. Simpler jobs can be reliably done by following procedure. More complex ones require the ability to analyze a situation – using established rules – and decide which of several alternative paths to follow. In even more complex cases they analyze, diagnose, design, redesign, program, plan or schedule. In some cases, they create new products, processes and new ways of being. Very complex jobs require individuals who can analyze and solve very complex problems.

These complex, knowledge driven processes get difficult to provide as work-as-prescribed. The work involves thought and creativity, and finding the right balance is a continual balancing act of knowledge management.

Team Feedback

Research on feedback in teams recognizes the importance of continuous reflection and feedback mechanisms to team success and generally finds that the feedback process is an ongoing dynamic system of performance management rather than an isolated event. Feedback is critical to teams learning.

Four characteristics make feedback effective:

  • Type of feedback: Feedback can describe performance or processes behaviors. Performance feedback contains information about individual or team performance to reinforce good performance or repair poor performance by identifying areas for improvement. Process feedback is information regarding the way one performed a task and did or did not reach expected results.
  • Feedback level: Feedback can target the team as a whole (i.e., team-level feedback), individual team members (i.e., individual-level feedback), or both. In the latter, team members receive information about how the team behaves as a whole along with information about their individual contribution.
  • Feedback valence: The positive or negative evaluation of one’s performance in relation to the goal or standard. In teams, potential benefits of negative feedback might be explained by the activation of goal-striving iterative cycles.
  • Feedback source: Objective (e.g., a measure of delay of delivery) or subjective (i.e., opinion of a source). Feedback-subjective sources can be classified as (a) sources from outside the team (e.g., manager, researcher, expert, and customers) and (b) sources from inside the team (e.g., the team leader debriefing about the feedback or team members who give feedback to each other).

Feedback quality is determined by how specific, well timed, regular, non-threatening, shared, directed at teams it targets, and fairly distributed among team members the feedback is. When feedback meets these criteria, it has been found to be most effective.

Most feedback models state that feedback can only be powerful when individuals attend to and perceive this feedback as being relevant, meaningful, and useful. Conversely, if team members perceive feedback as being unrelated to actual performance, irrelevant, or inaccurate, or do not pay attention to cues presented in the feedback, they are likely to disregard, discount, or reject this feedback. If feedback perception is favorable for team members, and if individual perceptions are externalized in the team and shared among team mem-bers (i.e., team perception), teams as a whole will likely engage in interactions during which they will collectively make sense of the feedback and plan changes accordingly.

We live in the age of culturally heterogeneous teams, defined as two or more individuals from different cultural backgrounds who pursue a common goal, work on interdependent tasks, require social interaction, share responsibility for a team product, and have clear differentiated responsibilities and roles. Teams with members from various cultures can provide a broader range of perspectives, task-related knowledge, abilities, and skills. However, culturally related individual differences in social behavior, communication, and cognition can greatly increase the complexity of intra-team dynamics.