Businesses will thrive only if they meet the shifting demands of employees, customers, shareholders, and society. But culture can slow down even the most passionate teams.

Disruption is relentless

Climate change, calls for employee well-being and belonging, economic slowdown, swings in customer appetite or society’s values, and technology advances all demand shifts in culture and practice.

How resistance works

Facing non-stop disruption, management teams press for change. But the more urgency is felt, the more old ways dig in.

‘People do not like change’ is not quite true. Employees welcome a promotion, a faster computer. We humans move to new cities, have our first children, and cope with CoVID lockdowns.

People resist change when they worry they will lose out or when they are forced to question the beliefs of a lifetime. They struggle when the process or outcomes feel beyond their control.

‘Culture change’ can mean rushing employees to abandon methods they trust. They hesitate when told their views no longer ‘fit’ or when moved toward a future where their status or value is uncertain.

Projects designed to change culture cause anxiety for many, whether they voice it or not. Companies often spend time and money yet fail to have the desired effect on attitudes or day-to-day work.

The Wind and the Sun

In Aesop’s fable, the North-wind and the sun vie to make a traveller take off his cloak. The North-wind opens with a cold blast and a driving shower. The traveller wraps his cloak tightly around him.

The sun then breaks through the clouds and darts warm beams on to the traveller’s head. The heat moves him; he takes off his cloak, and makes for the shade of a grove.

Make culture an asset

Aesop’s fable illustrates a principle of behaviour change that is easily overlooked. Attempts to manage culture often remain external to the people affected, who feel that something is being ‘done to them’.

Resistance lessens when we create positive conditions for individuals or teams to take on fresh perspectives. As they do, the culture of a group evolves.

To see the aim as ‘evolution’ rather than ‘change’ goes beyond semantics to encourage attention to group experiences and assumptions. This thinking offers a surer way forward.

An organisation can nurture evolution at pace and with clear outcomes in mind. Culture then emerges as a unique asset, a resource for managers who seek to do more.

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