Training For Culture Change: Eleven Tips for Success

You’ve recognized that your culture is headed in the wrong direction, or at least could use a course correction. You’ve decided to explore outside help, perhaps from a consultant or training firm. We are very familiar with being across the table for that first conversation, and the conversations that follow.

Recently we were invited to submit a proposal for a culture change initiative for a large regional healthcare system. This is an organization with whom we’ve done various projects over the years. When we gathered with a few key leaders for our initial exploration meeting we expected that they would know all about the various projects we did, would have heard of the success, and been confident in our ability to tackle this new, larger project. Not so. They were surprised at the extent of work we’d done with this system, and we all recognized that nobody really knew the full story.

Part of the reason for this was due to leadership changes in many key departments in which we’d worked. It’s difficult for some memories to carry on when people come and go. And, large organizations have a lot of moving parts. But a big part of the responsibility is on us. Executing coordinated initiatives that impact culture over the long-term require a unique combination of ingredients.

We’ve participated in projects that succeeded and ones that didn’t do so well and we’ve learned valuable lessons about what it takes to execute a culture-change initiative that sticks. Here are some of the top tips for success when training for culture change.

Answer these questions before (or with) your consultant and your team of decision-makers before you charge ahead. If we would have tended to all of these in our previous work with the healthcare system mentioned above, the conversation may have gone very differently. Hopefully we’ll get another chance, and we intend to do things better this time around.

Start with the end in mind

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What will it look like if this is successful?
  • Describe in as much detail as possible the end state you are working towards.

Commitment and courage from the top

  • Is top leadership on board?
  • Will the executive team participate and role-model the process?

Think sustainability

  • How will you keep it going?
  • What about on-boarding new employees?
  • What internal capacity will you develop to reduce reliance on the external agency?

Strive for a common language

  • What are the basic, simple set of principles that everyone will learn?
  • How will a common language and framework be reinforced at all levels of the organization?

Behavior change over participation

  • Culture change is about behavior change, not participation in a course.
  • What behaviors will change and how will you know?

Measure progress and ROI

  • Metrics, metrics, metrics. What metrics alerted you to the need for culture change and how will they change if you are successful?
  • What simple, meaningful measures can you use to quantify change?
  • How will you put a value on the changes you seek? Get clear about this ahead of time.

Anticipate and prepare for resistance

  • Who will most likely resist this change? Why?
  • What accountability measures will be put in place to ensure forward movement?
  • How will you respond to the resistance? Get clear about this ahead of time.

If you aren’t prepared to fire someone, anyone, who undermines positive change even after being given opportunities to learn and grow, then you aren’t prepared for culture change.

Models don’t work, you work

  • It’s OK to ask about the effectiveness of the model, training, or curriculum. Next, ask yourself how much effort you are willing to put forth to make the model work for you.
  • Tools are just tools. Their effectiveness lies in the dedicated skill of the craftsman. That’s you.

Involve people in scaled deployment and design

  • Who are your key influencers? Involve them in initial phases so they can help design and be champions.
  • Be willing to adapt as needed, with plenty of feedback from the early adopters.

The long haul is longer than you think

  • There are no silver bullets, no magic motivational speeches.
  • Change takes time, a lot of time. And courage. And perseverance. And vulnerability. And adaptability. And patience. And more time.

Support the mission, challenge the status quo

  • Don’t confuse mission with tradition. Any new effort must support your core values, but challenge old habits.
  • Are you willing to change old habits to more fully serve your mission?

If you engage Next Element, you can count on us to work through these things with you. If you engage someone else, we hope this list helps you prepare for the greatest success possible.

Copyright 2016, Next Element Consulting, LLC

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