I've been very curious lately about what can effectively (read that: permanently and positively) create culture change. You might think of culture as the relational organism within the structural organization. For example, the U.S. has a government (an organization) but it also has a culture. The culture is born out of the organization and exists within it, but is it's own separate and unique entity. Same goes for a corporation, a school, a family, a church...you get the idea.
So one interesting thing I've learned about culture is that culture inherently resists change...even when that change is for the better and even when the individuals within that culture may want the change to happen. It's as if the culture itself takes on a life and will of its own; it becomes the tiger we grab by the tail and try to move to someplace new. But when you try to do this to a tiger, of course, it attacks. And so does the culture. We get push back, backlash. Dissention. Intractable resistance. Even hate or violence.
Purposefully trying to change a culture is tricky business, especially with our current cultural value for collaborative community. If one voice tries to rise up and tell us all how we should be or what we should be doing, we'll collectively swipe that guy off his pedestal with lightning speed. Unless of course, we collectively believe he is speaking for us...that he is simply reflecting back to us what we are collectively saying as a culture anyway.
So given all that, how do you create authentic culture change?
Here's a quick list of ideas I'm exploring:
Go Viral -- Essentially, this approach involves trying to infect the culture with change in a quiet, positively subversive way. Just as a physical virus gets a foothold in a body by sneaking past the body's defenses, a viral approach to culture change involves "sneaking past" the culture's conscious awareness until its too late for the culture to stop it. A culture will not resist what it's not aware of. The recent Facebook phenomenon happened in this way. It may seem like all of a sudden a few months ago, everyone and their dog decided to join Facebook. But the Facebook creators have been quietly working their viral infection into the cultural mainstream for years now.
Leverage What's Already There -- Find the sub-group within the culture in which the change you're wanting to see happen has already occurred (or is already occurring), and give those people a larger platform to speak from so they can be more effectively heard by the culture as a whole.
Be the Spark -- Or as Ghandi would put it, "Be the change you want to see." This approach is not about "preaching" or persuading others toward a particular change, it's about embodying the change yourself, and letting your example infect others organically.
Enlist the Catalysts -- Find the first adopters, the culture catalysts within your group, and openly invite them to join your cause. This is, in part at least, the approach recommended by The Tipping Point.
Deep Democracy -- This approach, which is beautifully promoted and taught by The Center for Right Relationship, involves creating a curious, open, non-judgmental environment and inviting all the various voices of the culture to step into a conversation together. The very act of increasing the level of awareness in the culture (truly hearing all the voices and perspectives) has the effect of actually changing the culture. Of course, it may or may not shift in the direction you think it should, but generally the shift is always toward something better and more effective.
So I'm curious--how have you used these various approaches to culture change in your own leadership? Which ones do you favor? What are some other approaches that aren't mentioned here?
Feel free to post your thoughts, questions, insights...
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