Have you ever tried to change someone’s mind about something when they were really certain about what they were doing or what they believed?  You know it’s impossible.  But frequently we talk about culture change in an agency or organization.  Culture is the collective way of thinking and doing things in a group.  In other words, to change a culture, you have to change the way people think.  But didn’t we just agree that’s impossible?

As humans, scientists have shown that prior to any action we take, there is a conscious thought and a decision we make to do whatever that action may be.  That thought might be fleeting.  It might be impaired.  It might be flawed, but it exists nevertheless.  We don’t do anything without deciding or choosing to do it.

Of course, after we take the action we’ve decided to take, there’s always some consequence, either good or bad.  That consequence then should force us to learn something that is likely to influence our decision the next time I have to take that or a similar action.  We should have learned from that consequence, and that should affect the way we think.

Cycle of Human Behavior

Cycle of Human Behavior

In a working organization, the behavior I want to focus on is daily work.  The behavior leaders look for is competent performance of the assigned task.  In a compliant culture, that is all we want.  But in a lean culture, or on our journey to a culture of engagement, that’s just the start.  Our real desire is that the people doing the work actually think about how they do it and find better ways to do it as a result.  They think differently.

If we tell our people what to do and how to do it, we are guilty of propagating a culture of compliance.  And that’s what makes this so hard.  Many leaders simply don’t believe they can take the time to teach someone else how to complete a task properly in the allocated amount of time.  They will justify their actions by saying things like “I just want it done right, so I do it myself.”

If leaders continue to DO these kinds of things, they don’t have time to do what we most need them to do – lead.  To change the way these leaders think, we have to change the way they work (their behavior) and we have to change the consequences to ensure that the right behavior receives a positive result, and the wrong behavior is brought to light and corrected.

On your gemba walks and during your 1 on 1 coaching sessions, look for leaders who seem too busy doing work, and help them see that by doing work their teams should be doing, they lose the opportunity to lead – to challenge, to support, to correct, and to encourage.  Help them let go of thinking only they can produce the right quality work and set them on the right path to continue to change the culture.


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Reference, Leadersights Workshop Session 1, Slide 16.