Cultural Change - Why Wait?

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Recently I attended a week long retreat with Dr. Joe Dispenza, lecturer in neuroscience, amongst many other fascinating things.

Joe works comprehensively with people around the world in shifting mindset to shift results (simply speaking), and also runs programs for corporations on cultural change.

His approach to changing culture is to support leaders in changing the minds of individuals. Because to shift culture, we need to shift behaviour and language. And to shift that we need to shift the belief, thought and attitude patterns of individuals.

It's the opposite to what I see many leaders doing in their well-meaning attempts to elevate organisational culture. Frustrated at how people are working together, or more accurately how they are not working together, leaders try and motivate the group at-large. Focusing on the collective mind, hoping the individual minds will catch on to what's expected and make a change.

It's like a coach trying to win an AFL game by vigorously yelling at all the players to play better, hoping they'll each figure out what they're doing wrong that's costing the goals. But the game is much more nuanced than that, with each player needing specific feedback to adjust their approach and strategy to ensure the team succeed. 


Neuroscience tells us that after the age of 35 we are 95% unconscious as we go about our day, living our lives based on a memorised set of behaviours, emotional reactions, habits, attitudes and beliefs. Which means your people might hear your energetic or motivational speech, but they are unlikely to be listening and probably leave with little clarity about how to implement.

A blanket approach to motivation (eg, new values on the wall, some fancy support services, open plan offices, a shiny new thing), may inspire a spike in productivity or enthusiasm, however because changing how we think and behave on a regular basis requires us to be conscious and make an effort, most people will, within a few months, return to their beliefs that someone elseneeds to change for the cultural environment to improve. 


So why do leaders continue to inject more and more gusto into the blanket motivation approach, believing they're too busy for 1:1 time with their team members?

Here are some of my observations:

1. A high performing leader often wants their people to think, behave and perform the way they do, and they don't know how to up-skill people who think differently to them.

2. A leader usually tries countless different approaches to change the behaviour of a team member but when change isn't sustained, they give up and resort to hoping for improvement.

3. Quietly, a leader can wonder if something is wrong with their own leadership style but shy away from crossing that bridge.

4. A leader may be concerned that what they have to say will be misconstrued, resulting in a more complex situation that will be even more difficult to resolve.

5. A leader can feel overwhelmed with the amount of time and energy required to manage people, and would rather focus on their own expertise and getting the work done.

The challenge of inspiring people to new action is real, and can feel like climbing a mountain every day. However, the responsibility of a leader is to achieve ever-increasing results through people, so there's no getting around the need to find a way to influence how people think and behave.


A few years ago I was coaching a leader whose first attempt to elevate the culture of his business was motivational. He had a compelling vision, was deeply inspired by it and was excited to lift his leadership team out of the challenging past and bring them on the new journey. He invested great enthusiasm and communicated the vision with clarity and certainty.

It landed well for his team, they believed in their leader and caught onto the excitement for a while. But eventually it faded, the old concerns came back, people began blaming other business functions again, problems between different personalities returned and behaviour settled back into what it had been before.

This leader realised he needed to get into the minds of his team and understand why they were stuck, what they were really concerned about, where each of them were avoiding accountability and why, and support them in transcending their fears, concerns and negative behaviour.

Once he made the commitment to relate with people as individuals rather than attempt to only motivate the collective, he began seeing tangible positive changes in a short space of time. The process required much more of him, he needed to learn some new skills and reflect on his short-comings, but it paid off and they exceeded sales results for the year, celebrating as a collective!


Culture change is a complex undertaking which is why many organisations persist with the blanket motivational approach, until the signs of under-performance can no longer be ignored.

But like us human beings who sometimes wait for a wake up call before we make a change to our personal habits, if we wait for tangible evidence that something's not working in our organisation's cultural health, we're waiting far too long.

I'm with Dr Joe who asks why wait for the wake up call?