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Creating Culture Through Change

September 24th 2019

I think it's safe to say that culture is one of the most durable topics in business conversations. It's one of the most studied topics and it's a topic that occupies a lot of our headspace as leaders in business as we think about what it's like to create an organization.

There is a better and better understanding of just how important culture is to things like innovation, performance and engagement. Having done a lot of cultural work with organizations around the world in a bunch of different scenarios one observation has risen to the top over and over again: Companies don't change. People do - and when it comes to culture one of the most common conversations we've had is how do we change our culture or improve our culture to create a culture of innovation, or collaboration, or inclusiveness. Those are all questions about behaviour change. 

A culture of innovation is one in which people do the three or four behaviours of innovation regularly and routinely. A culture of inclusion is one in which people engage in the behaviours of inclusion inside the business. A culture of productivity is one in which people engage in the behaviours of exceptional time management, forward planning and critical thinking. I would argue that a conversation about culture needs to be subsumed in a conversation about behaviour. 

My agency specialising behaviour change has spent the last three years building models for behaviour inside organizations. We have boiled down these extremely abstract conversations about culture into a simple conversation about the behaviours we want people to engage with. You cannot drive a behaviour you have not defined.

If you want a culture of innovation (which means you want behaviours of innovation) the first step is you need to define the behaviours that you want people engaged in. Secondly, we won't engage in behaviours that are hard. If we want a culture of collaboration (which means we want behaviours of collaboration) the first thing to ask is how do we make that easy for people. Thirdly we need to be rewarded for the behaviours that we engage in that are the right behaviours.

When we define the right behaviours and understand the barriers and drivers of those behaviours we can start to change an abstract and complex conversation about culture into a simple targeted and effective conversation about behaviour. When we get people engaging in the right behaviours it moves from being a conversation about slogans on walls to behaviours and action - because we've started with a clear definition of the behaviours that we need.

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