Several clients have recently asked us to help them change their cultures. One is a healthcare client that is preparing for value-based payments. Another is an organization that needs to eliminate layers of management and become more innovative, thus empowering people in the field. A third is ready to open new markets and wants its staff to lead the charge.
Whatever type of organization you are, change is painful. But once you put a process in place, the changes you need can actually happen. People know how to play a new game or get on stage and perform a new role. Why can't they do the same in their jobs? Maybe they need a script, rehearsal time and a good coach—you!!
Our recommendation for a great change process that works!
Our expertise in culture change work could help you with the discovery, design and implementation phases of a change project. Try these steps and see how they work for you:
- Experiential learning. This is a very powerful way to take didactic learning and turn it into active behavioral modification, in keeping with wide research on how to take people from the “unconscious incompetent stage through the consciously competent stage and forward.” How people “see" and experience things helps them change how they do things. It is a lot like rehearsing for a performance in a play or on a sports field—they need a lot of visualization and practice. They also need a script. In the end, it's a combination of methodologies that often can change behaviors. And, it's a social phenomenon, not just an individual one.
- People who are leading the changes should help build your process. For true, lasting change to occur, an organization's leaders need to be involved in building the change process.
- Culture Change Methodology. At SAMC, the methodology for real change that we suggest is the multi-step process developed at the University of Michigan by Professors Kim Cameron, Robert Quinn and Jeff McGrath as part of their work in "Competing Values and in the Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture." They focus on making the undesirable desirable. A company's social order, and the structure that supports it, will need to be rethought. Otherwise, people abandon the changes and go back to their comfortable, familiar habits.
For a successful change process—make it like a play!
For people to overcome their well-established biases and habits, they need to change the way their brains see reality. Our change process—structured like a dramatic play—typically goes like this:
- What's your story, as it is today? At the first session, we begin by having participants (in this case, our heatlhcare client) to create a story that describes how they as physicians would treat a patient with a particular condition, diagnosis or health concern. In the storytelling that follows, we add on visualization tools so participants can really “see” what they are saying. Once they agree on the story (or stories), we get them to visualize how that might change to achieve a different type of patient care.
- Goals for the future. Here, we focus on what participants would prefer the future to look like. For example, for our healthcare client: How would they want to be treating their patients so as to reduce hospital utilization? How would the process look if they could design it themselves for the future? Mapping out the work flow of today and for tomorrow is very helpful, as well as playing a game called “Remember the Future” in which they plan the work flow for the future (12 months forward), then backward plan how to get there.
- Visualizing the story of tomorrow. Participants visualize how things will be done in the future if they are to achieve their goals. This new story is created individually and then brought together into a shared visualization.
- Small wins. Participants craft several small wins that reflect their vision of the future and the steps needed to get there.
- Social support. As humans, we live in groups and share common values, beliefs and behaviors. Habits drive our daily activities. If you are going to successfully change these, you need a social support system that will be part of the change team. For example, for a healthcare organization, you would include people who work with physicians—nurses, staff, other physicians, non-hospital ancillary providers, colleagues and administrators. Identify them early and make them part of the transformation team. Each has a role to play to ensure the end-goal is met. Remember, this is not a solo performance but an ensemble!
- Follow-up and accountability. This is very important. Specify time frames for changes to be completed, then design follow-up and reporting events. Don’t let change be “someday” events that are open-ended.
- Provide information, visually if possible. Share as much information on a regular basis and as broadly as possible. If there is no information, people make it up (and often get it wrong). Stories and pictures are better than words alone. This means designating a chief communicator of the culture change process who will capture the stories of success and pain, and share them.
- Measure. Identify criteria that will indicate successful change. Create a data gathering system and a time frame for assessing results—often. This metric role is of critical importance. Who will be responsible and how will it be benchmarked before and during the transition? How will you see “hotspots” that need additional focus? How will you make sure the right data is being reviewed? What is the story the data is telling you?
- Create readiness. Expect resistance to change. Therefore, creating readiness for this is essential. Talk about the disadvantages of not changing. Remember that people’s brains hate change. They may tell you they are “with you” but then quick as a wink, go back to the habits you are trying to change. To avoid this, they need skill development, ease of implementation, mentors and coaches to support the changes. Again, change is as much a social action as a personal one.
- Explain why. When people know why the change is necessary, that it came from they themselves, they stop resisting. Explaining to them why communicates caring and esteem. It is this caring and recognition that matters to people. The desired goal is great, but how people feel about it is more important.
- Hold a funeral. Sometimes it is important to end something that people feel reflects the value of their efforts in the past. Respect that. Celebrate the past but also make the transition to the future.
Change is a social movement
When we say social movement, we mean just that. You should consider how to build this into an experiential “institute” with a cross-functional team(s) that solidifies the process and gives the leaders who are trying to change the organization more legitimacy. You can use this process for all types of purposes: on-boarding new staff, celebrating success, redirecting for new goals, and holding future training sessions. You want this to be a cultural transformation, ensuring that your people own it and wear it and share it. Otherwise it's just too easy to go back to old habits, fast.