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1st Rule of Culture Change? Don’t Talk It

June 26, 2018

Is there any greater addiction than the earnest belief that we will do it differently tomorrow? The paradox is that good-hearted leaders are often the ones most deeply in the throes of the addiction.

If you didn’t care about people, you wouldn’t bother. You wouldn’t notice the strain people are feeling, the plea for relief from the overwhelming pace and amount of information, the way people talk about feeling inspired with bags under their eyes.

It’s an incredibly compassionate response to want to do something about it, to tell people that you see what’s going on and how you’d like to change it. Here’s the trap:

Talking about culture change dissipates the very energy you need to change it — by giving you the feeling that you’ve taken action when you’ve only expressed an intention.

Here are just a few of the powerful actions you can take that turn intention into action, and will say everything your team needs to hear about your commitment to creating a humane place to work:

  • Delete three non-essential projects from your team’s project management dashboard. Not by giving them a new deadline but a complete removal (the only way to free up the mental energy they’re taking up).
  • Pull one person into your office to praise them for something they did that will embarrass them with how seen and valued they’ll feel by you. End the meeting before anyone changes the subject to the next task or project. (Feeling valued is more uncomfortable — in a good way — than we ever imagine).
  • Pull another person into your office to thank them for how they questioned a decision that you were about to make, or came back to you to repeat that concern respectfully after you brushed them off the first time. Then ask for their permission to share what happened in a team meeting so others can see what it looks like to risk being right.
  • Open your next meeting by sharing with your team about the professional habit you know you need to work on that makes it hard to hold them accountable for their bad habits — but that you’re not going to let the fact that you’re imperfect stop you from becoming a great manager.
  • Apologize to someone on the team for what you said (or how you said it) the last time you got frustrated with them. Tell them how you know that it undermines their confidence in you and how serious you are aware that is.

The opportunity to change your culture — aka the leaders in the organization modeling what it looks like to embody personal ownership and professional integrity at the same time — is available in every moment.

Almost always better to not speak its name.

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