We all have gone on diets in our lifetime and some of them are successful and others end up as a forgotten resolution. Changing a culture is similar to a diet. First you must have a plan. Cold turkey is usually the worse strategy and miracle solutions just don’t exist. The successful diets and culture changes are the ones taken in small steps and limit expectations for set periods of time.

Culture change will not happen quickly. The struggle you may encounter is competition with consultants who promise a steadfast overall change in a short time span. If you are not gradual in your change, you will fail. How many quality improvement initiatives and programs have come and gone? Most initiatives that are too broad reaching and aggressive fail because of two reasons. It too costly to force huge change quickly and only small steps to improve are sustainable. Initiatives that are too large in scope and possess extremely high expectations have traditionally rolled out and take extraordinary labor resources and cost at a high rate which no organization can afford. Consultant packages that fail are usually too aggressive and ignore the fact that people need a “soak” factor to buy into the changes. Consultants need to justify their results and invoke management by objectives that are not contiguous with culture change. They are on a time schedule to make revenues and measureable results quickly.

You must make several small changes and let them soak into the work environment allowing employees to embrace the changes and see the benefits. This allows management to caress the attitudes of the workforce so that they see the tasks as theirs. Management cannot force a lean journey through presentations and communications. We must put task initiatives in place and work with employees to allow their acceptance and desire to sustain these initiatives. When the first segments of your plan are now sustained by the workforce because they own it, roll out the next set of initiatives. A journey to lean takes years and is an ever improving initiative. Educate, communicate and empower the sustainment of the program.
Leadership cannot roll out a program that is too comprehensive, esoteric and urgent. Employees, and leaders, are creatures of habits and they believe their current methods and current tasks are the most efficient way to achieve results. They view change as a threat to their skill set and intelligence in many cases. We must use their talents and skills to ensure that tasks are complete and transferred from one employee to the next. People will reinforce changes to others if the changes necessary and therefore risks are minimized. We must foster employee’s choices and guide them to the correct path. Leaders need to allow the process to mature and provide ongoing communication. Employees must embrace the change for it to sustain and they will be more successful if they are supported by their peers and leaders. When change becomes the norm, you will succeed.

Know who your informal leaders are. If they are not bought into the process and change, it will not succeed. Once those employees take ownership of the changes they will reiterate the need to others without management intervention. Forced overall change without the organization’s ownership will not sustain. The organization must own the culture and management must be perceived as supporters and “roadblock removers”. Anecdotally, I can speak of corporations that struggled to create common sense culture changes because leaders just rammed their philosophy into the organization. The lack of “buy in” by the general population left the organization with a lack of ownership. Change agents are empowerment drivers and they provide the cheerleading for the organization to change. Dictators do not sustain change by intimidation but create an “us versus them” environment. You must understand that your people want to be the best and complete the best job possible. Empower them to change but give them a reasonable amount of time to own the culture.

Finally, you must reward small successes. The rewards do not have to be huge nor monetary. A simple rewards program that stimulates continual improvement will revive personnel after they have taken extensive efforts to improve the organization. Allow your groups to make mistakes and do not jump in on every error and redirect. If you continually correct your workforce, it will become your program and not theirs. You must think about the lessons in life that we really remember and those that we made errors within tend to be the ones we remember. Your workforce will appreciate the fact that you allowed them to correct their own mistakes and will assure you through future actions that they will not repeat them. Embrace your organization and appreciate all the effort s they take to improve the company. Provide a vision, a strategic plan and then cheerlead the organization forward