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Alternative title: A plan longer than six months to see initial success, is not worth the money.

I suppose the question is how long is long and how difficult is difficult, but, in general, business and organizational consulting, have always overstated the time needed to create cultural change. This is simply because we have been using outdated toolkits and methods.

We have treated cultural change as ‘a project’ and applied the mechanics of project management. It looks like this. Dozens (if not hundreds) of consultants land on the corporate shores, workshops multiply like mushrooms and a tsunami of communication comes from the top: ‘change is good, this is what you must do, do you get it? Cascade down the message’. Kind of.  So it takes six months to figure out what to do, including a cultural assessment (of course), a couple more to present findings, another to launch and you start doing something at month 6. If you’re lucky. Then, you start with the top (of course) and cascade down one layer, then another one, peeling the organizational onion with lots of messages and workshopsterone. You don’t see initial results until, say, year 2 and you need another couple of years to see more. See what? Well, good question, err, a different culture? How do you measure that? What do you mean? I told you, 20 senior managers workshop, 150 middle management and… Hold on, this is activity, not outcomes. Oh!

The following are 2 examples of non-workshopsterone-led fast cultural change. One. New CEO says enough of meetings, I am not having them, meetings are a cancer, cut them out. 6 months later they had 60% reduction in meetings, significant increase in direct communications, better fluid collaboration, sky did not fall, business is booming. Guess what, employee engagement scores are up.

Case two. Good, friendly and productive culture. Perhaps too friendly, perhaps not productive enough, but attracting a stream of new hires bringing fresh thinking. Employee engagement scores high. Cost cutting exercise comes in, jobs slashed, roles amalgamated, country borders blurred, senior levels downgraded, organizational structure shrunk. Plus the usual no mints, no peanuts, no free coffee, no travel, hiring freeze. And this is just round 1. Round 2. More of the same and exponential, everybody insecure and a colossal amount of free space in the building. People start playing nasty games with each other, social Darwinism on the increase, stabbing in the back common, dreadful environment.  Night-and-Day culture change done. You stay in, because of a stock options scheme of some sort, otherwise you would leave as fast as you can. Oh, I forgot, no idea of employee engagement scores, because it was agreed at the top that it wasn’t the right time to ask. Wisdom was not downsized in this one.

In both cases, a trigger or triggers, created a chain reaction and culture change took place in months, almost in a few weeks.

I am not bringing these two cases as examples of how cultural change should be done, but as a representation of situations where culture changes and culture re-shaping take place in a short period of time. Nothing to learn? Both are unquestionable examples of cultural change, unless you are blind. Both are a sort of ‘unintended consequences of something’. (The cynical Me says that both were also ‘successful’ because none were labelled ‘a cultural change’ programme).

As I have repeated ad nauseam, organizational culture change is bottom up, behavioural based, peer-to-peer, using informal networks and with a particular kind of leadership that is movement-supportive (we call it Backstage Leadership™ ) I am of course defining Viral Change™’  no apologies for the reference. Viral Change™ is orchestrated like a social movement, not as a management consulting programme.

Be it our Viral Change™, or any other type, successful cultural change it is not top down, not worksopsterone fuelled, not information tsunami, certainly not long, painful, super-expensive and ending in a fiasco. Hold on! The example of the meeting-hater CEO was top down! Yes, the trigger was at the top but the Anti-Meeting Movement took place with no meetings (about not having meetings), no workshops and no communication plan. It was Homo Imitans in real life, viral and behavioural spread by massive social copying.

Yes, we can… We can say that the Emperor of the long, difficult, herculean, massively complicated, information tsunami, unpredictable organizational cultural change has, definitely, clearly, categorically, for sure, no clothes whatsoever. Given the time this has been going on, he must be freezing.


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