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  • Writer's picturejohn pryor

Make Change Your New Core Value

“Culture is a learned set of assumptions based on a group’s shared history.” Edgar Schein

If you stop and think about it, this quote from Edgar Schein has a profound impact on future looking strategies.

An organization’s culture is created by internalizing values that brought success in the past. These values begin with the company executives and when internalized by staff form the unspoken, underlying assumptions that sit at the deepest level in an organization’s culture. The overall organization operates with these underlying assumptions in the present.

Strategy has a very different lens. Organizations set their strategy not on the past, but on the future. They do an environmental scan, look at strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities and make changes to their company’s direction to stay competitive.

At some point, the changes required during execution of the company’s forward-looking strategy encounter the company’s history dominated culture.

And then Culture eats Strategy for breakfast. Or at least there is a food fight.

Companies Don’t Value Change

If a company’s culture begins with its values, then that is foreboding news for managing change. The problem is that company’s do not value change. And I say that with some pretty solid artifacts to point to. How about this — not one of the Glassdoor 2019 Top 25 companies to work for list change as a core value. And I don’t mean just having the word change in there, which they don’t, but any direct connection to the act of adopting and moving in a new direction. The most frequently occurring core value is Integrity. To be fair, Innovation does show up three times, but valuing innovation is not the same as valuing change. Innovation is inventing products and services that bring value or that customers are willing to pay for. Change is much broader and applies to everything. This includes products and services for customers, and includes tools, processes and behaviors for employees. It applies to organizational changes, strategic direction, workplace layout and accommodations … everything. And changes in non-product / service areas may be less important for customers, but very important for the employees who companies rely on to delight their customers.

The Pain of Ignoring Change

We know change is everywhere. We know it is coming at us fast and can be very, very impactful. It will seriously damage a company that ignores it and can put a company out of business altogether. Ask Kodak, Blockbuster, Borders, Sears, Yahoo…the list goes on and on. The risk of not respecting change is real.

We know that organizations do not manage change well. Success rates on change initiatives and transformation projects are abysmal. The pain associated with change is real.

Change is something that consumes our resources, challenges a company’s survival, impacts staff for months on end, and yet we don’t tackle it straight on. We kind of ignore it. We compartmentalize it into initiatives and projects, hire talent to deal with it using a 3 or 4 step process, and curse the heavens that change is constant and hard.

A New Battle Plan

More and more, it’s becoming obvious that we have the wrong battle plan to win this fight.

Sure, a process and tools are helpful. And having staff on hand with expertise in managing change is a good thing to do. But we won’t win this battle until we embrace change and all the messy stuff that comes with it. We need to walk up to it, wrap our arms around it and give it a hug and call it ours. We need to value it. Hold it in high esteem and build it into our culture, like we want to do with Integrity.

And here’s how company executives can do it.

It starts with the word value. To value something means to consider it to be important or beneficial, to have a high opinion of it. Value more than innovation, value change and all that comes with it.

Dig deeper. Identify those principles that drive the right behaviors to make change happen well. Call those principles out.

Focus daily. Make these principles part of how you do your work every day. Insist that your teams embed these principles in the work they do. Talk with them about it, measure it and reward when you see it happening. Doing this everyday will internalize these principles and leave behind artifacts for employees and customers to experience. These artifacts reinforce that the organization values and embraces change and does it well. Maybe better than anyone else.

Don’t stop. Change is everywhere. Your change principles can be used everywhere. With each success you experience, your company shares the success and internalizes it, and it becomes your shared history, i.e. part of your culture.

There is plenty of evidence to show that companies don’t value change. There is plenty of evidence to show that they should. It is time for company executives to think differently about how they engage with change. Create a better battle plan. Instead of dealing with change at the project, process and tool level, deal with it straight on. Value Change. Build it into your core values and internalize it as a basic underlying assumption for success. Make it part of your culture.

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