When we want to transform the culture of an organization, much is said about how we transform behaviors. This makes sense because behaviors are actually the manifestation of culture.
When we assess and want to truly understand the culture of an organization, we don’t rely on behavior manuals or what their website says about the culture. Instead, we immersively observe and explore what people do and don’t do every day. The culture of an organization is “how things are done here.”
So, definitely, if we want to change a culture, for example, in this case, towards customer centricity, we have to work on behaviors.
However, behaviors are just the tip of the iceberg. Behind them, other things happen that define how people behave:
- Beliefs: They are the great trigger of behaviors. Beliefs activate the process. It is what is deeper and harder and critical to reach.
- Motivations: It is what gives us the reasons to do it. Because we understand that doing it will be worthwhile, it will have a satisfying reward, it will be enjoyable, or we will achieve a goal. There is a desire to do it.
- Behaviors: It is the concrete action that happens based on the beliefs and reasons we have to do it. Beliefs and motivations shape that behavior and condition it. Behavior is the manifestation.
- Habits: When that behavior is frequent but, above all, consistent, we can talk about habits. Habit implies having that behavior naturally incorporated, making it our obvious and expected way of acting.
When these behaviors are naturally and consistently established, that’s when we can talk about habits and a new culture.
Clearly, this process does not happen overnight. Also, changes do not happen because we tell people they have to change (no matter how many times we repeat it). For it to happen, several things must align.
Here are some key points on how we activate this chain for cultural change:
- Disrupting established beliefs:
Of the entire change process, this is the crucial and most challenging one because it reaches the deepest part of people and challenges patterns of how we understand our reality. For example, how many times have we heard “things will never change here” or “that may work in other companies, but it’s impossible here, it won’t change.”
Disrupting that lack of trust and belief is the first challenge we face to aspire to make that change truly possible.
- What are the deeply rooted beliefs in people and in your culture?
- Which beliefs favor transformation and which do not?
- How will you disrupt them to show that something else is possible?
The important thing here is to demonstrate with milestones, small achievements, or “quick wins” that things can indeed be different. That’s why it is advisable to start with agile approaches where one or two key milestones show people that things can change.
Also, we can focus on the fact that the reality we have today was once part of a change.
Another example of strongly ingrained beliefs that we often encounter in cultural transformation projects is the one behind the “lack” of curiosity. If we want to activate a key behavior for customer centricity like curiosity, we have to work on the belief that there is something about our customer that we don’t know. Often, it is mistakenly assumed that we already know everything about the customer, especially the sales teams that interact with the customer constantly and already have an established approach or way of approaching the customer. Some tools or key activities such as the Empathy Map, Personas, or Customer Journey Map will help us, in practice, begin to disrupt that belief so that they understand that curiosity is inherent to a customer-centered way of working and that we always (emphasis on always) have new things to discover about the customer.
- Driving Motivations:
Once we work on beliefs, we have to be very solid in mobilizing people to want to change. Nobody will change just because they are told they have to, and there is no greater aversion to change than when someone tells you that you “have” to change.
- Do we understand the true motivators of people? (There are some models that can help categorize them)
- Do we have a value proposition for change?
- How do we make the change worthwhile?
Remember that, just like with our customers, not all employees have the same motivations, interests, pain points, and expectations. The same way we understand the customer, we must understand our employee and know our Personas.
- Activating Behaviors:
To activate new behaviors, we have to work hard to make it clear what is expected of them every day. Often, we stick to high-level descriptions that people don’t clearly understand what they are supposed to be doing differently every day. Change involves adopting new behaviors but also abandoning others. Therefore, we have to be very specific and clear when explaining to people what is expected of them in terms of behavior.
- Do we have clarity on what behaviors we will ask people to adopt?
- Do we have a clear idea of which behaviors we will ask people to abandon?
- Have we developed resources and materials to help them explore, learn, and practice those new behaviors?
For that, it is ideal to generate new behavior manuals, interactive trainings where they can learn about those behaviors, some practice exercises, checklists, and the famous “nudges,” among others. Anything that is beneficial for them to clearly understand what they are supposed to be doing every day (and what not).
- Sustaining the New Culture:
No organizational transformation is such if it is not approached from a systemic perspective. Therefore, if you want these behaviors to flourish, become habits, and be an inherent part of your organizational culture, there must be a whole system of reinforcements formalized based on that: performance evaluations, benefit programs, recognition, and, above all, the example set by the leaders.
For example, if we ask people to be agile, but our processes are not, or decision-making is highly centralized and slow, that person will quickly realize that, no matter how much intention and willingness they have to be agile, achieving it will be impossible.
- Have we created a “safe” space for exploration, practice, and error? (Change implies learning, and that necessarily involves making mistakes)
- Have we adjusted processes, structures, systems, and policies to reinforce these behaviors? (Consistency above all!)
- Are the organization’s role models an example of the culture we seek to install? (Putting the customer at the center of all their decisions and practices)
Once we reach the point where these behaviors begin to be reflected every day in the organization and people start to feel encouraged to try them, we need to ensure that the organization facilitates the culture and behaviors being asked of them.
From the moment this is not coherent or is contradictory, that’s when we ourselves start to undermine the culture we are seeking.