Organizations: Get Your Teams On the Habit WheelHow do you push through the bad inertia and get your team humming again? With three time-tested tricks: trigger, action, and reinforcement.
Simple ways to engineer your team’s momentum in 2021.
To paraphrase the law of inertia, a team at rest tends to stay at rest. And a team in motion tends to stay in motion.
For some organizations, 2020 slowed us down. While we haven’t been at “rest,” it certainly hasn’t been business as usual. Many organizations have slowed due to lower demand, inefficient virtual collaboration, sluggish cash-flow, and uncertainty about the future.
We now see a shift. People are optimistic about a return to normal. But we can’t just flip a switch. How do you push through the bad inertia and get your team humming again?
With three time-tested tricks: trigger, action, and reinforcement.
Does that sound familiar? Maybe you’re flashing back to Psych 101? Yes, we can use the principles of operant conditioning to change behaviors and create new habits that drive momentum.
The Habit Wheel
Quick refresher: we experience a trigger, we exhibit a behavior, and we get rewarded. If we repeat that cycle enough, it becomes less intentional and more automatic. That’s when we have a habit. Habits are powerful, because they sort of run on their own. So good habits are powerful; harnessing good habits creates positive momentum for a group.
So how do we use this to create team momentum?
- Behavior. Pick actions that are easy and important. That’s the sweet spot.
- Trigger. Make it clear and distinct. When people experience that trigger, they should know exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to know when they get it right.
- Reinforcement. Reward those who complete the behavior successfully. The reward depends on the situation. It might be a system response, a tangible reward, feedback from a supervisor, or public recognition. For extra credit, spread success stories. Focus the team’s attention on these “wins.” It’s another layer of reinforcement.
Remember, our goal is habit—behavior that is self-perpetuating. Once you layer the right habits across the team or the organization, you have momentum.
Send an email, reminding your team of the reason you need change, and telling them you’re taking small steps. Lay out your momentum plan and highlight the benefits for the team.
Then, every Monday, email then team with one small action you want to see that week. Include examples and ways to tell when they’ve done it right.
Subject: This week, open all meetings with your intended outcome.
We’ve been talking about taking our meetings to the next level. Now it’s time to put it into action.
This week, please open every meeting by defining your intended outcome. For example, “The goal of our meeting today is 100% agreement on the project timeline.”
On Thursday, I will ask you for examples of how it went – good, bad, or indifferent. I’m looking forward to your stories!
Throughout the week, informally recognize the behavior when you see it.
Thursday, send an email asking for stories about how it worked during the week.
Subject: How did your meetings go?
This week I asked you to open every meeting by defining your intended outcome. How did it go? I’m interested in specific examples — good and bad — of your experience. Thanks!
Then, on Friday, feed the stories back to the team and call out great performers.
Subject: FW: Pam did a good job starting her meeting.
Here’s John’s experience from Pam’s meeting (see below). Good learning here for all.
Pam, I love your idea of the flipchart page and circling back at regular intervals.
John, thanks for sharing! I appreciate the leadership from both of you.
Make sure to follow through by responding to your team’s reactions. You asked for both positive and negative, right? So help individuals get unstuck, exhibit the behavior successfully, and address any concerns they have.
It might seem incredibly simple, but these small disciplines can unlock your team’s momentum. Try it.
Build Your Team’s ResilienceHow do you get top performance from your teams while supporting them through these crazy times? Brain science has the answer. Emerson CEO Trish Emerson explains how leaders can use hacks to build people’s strength and resilience.
Hacking Human Biology to Improve Performance
According to the Harvard Business Review (1), employee productivity in most organizations dropped by at least three to six percent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders have a particular challenge, balancing employee output with supporting them through today’s very real issues. But there are hacks we can use to help our people be more resilient, all based on our biology.
It’s hard for our brains to process stress and think strategically at the same time. (2) When we see or hear something, our brains try to make sense out of it and determine a response. If we perceive a threat, our amygdala gets involved. You might know the amygdala from its biggest hit: Fight or Flight. If the threat seems strong, the amygdala might react quickly at the expense of the frontal lobes, which are trying to make sense of everything and compose a rational response.
Stress impacts our capacity to perform. Stress physically changes our brains. (3) It steeps our brains in hormones that change its physical structure: neuro-processors get shorter and the prefrontal cortex gets smaller.
These physical changes impact everything. Science writer Virginia Hughes elegantly explains this relationship in Nature. In Stress: the roots of resilience, (4) she writes that those with PTSD have an underactive prefrontal cortex and an overactive amygdala, and that resilience depends on the communication between the two.
But we are built to bounce forward.
Researchers took MRI’s of the brains of stressed students, and observed physical damage. Then, they measured those brains after one week of vacation, and found their neuro-processors and damaged dendrites had regrown. But here’s the interesting part: they did not end up just as they were before. The repairs suggest that the brain increases capacity to address future stress.
So our teams are under unusual stress, which diminishes performance, but they have the capacity to be resilient. How can we promote this resilience?
The Leaders’ Role
We can do two things to promote resilience: 1) give the team agency, and 2) give the experience meaning.
Agency is the sense that person can impact an outcome. People with active control over their experience are resilient—they feel stronger and more resistant to challenges. Here are three ways to create agency.
- Engineer progress. It is imperative to give people simple tasks that show progress. Focus on a simple, observable activity that produces an outcome—not on the ultimate results themselves. It’s like the doctor pushing us to stand soon after surgery. She doesn’t say, “Heal!” she says, “Stand!” Because standing will get us walking, and walking will return us to full health.
For example, if we know that sales come from relationships, focus the team on contacting one client a day. That’s it. Then celebrate the completion of that step. It’s something they can control—it’s achievable and they can report success. Over time, the constancy of those moments will create results that matter. As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest we reap but by the seeds that we plant.”
- Play the part. The physical and psychological are intertwined. Alison Wood Brooks, (5) at Harvard, studied reactions to certain types of fear, like stage fright or falling. She found that the sensation of fear and excitement are closely related. When she asked her subjects to say out loud, “I’m excited!” or “Get excited!” before a scary event, they reduced their anxiety.
Actors have known this trick for a long time. If we act happy—if our body language is open and we smile—we can actually produce that emotion. During COVID-19, a good number of us have been acting sad—withdrawing from friends, not dressing, and staying home. Small wonder depression has risen during COVID.
What can we do? We can model a bright mood and dress like we care. It might seem superficial, but the mirror neurons on our colleagues’ brains will encourage them to catch the positive emotion.
- Create fresh starts. It’s hard to move forward or express positive emotions in the face of daunting obstacles, like a global pandemic and lockdown. One way to clear those hurdles is a reset. Daniel Pink, author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, (6) tells us we have a wellspring of opportunities for resets. Look at the calendar for the start of the next year, quarter, month, week, or even the next new day. Look for holidays, birthdays, new team members, anniversaries of shared success. And we can manufacture resets, too—this is one reason software development sprints work—a long project becomes a series of kick-offs and accomplishments.
As leaders, we can create agency to promote resilience. We can give people active roles in a change, including choices and options. We can also engineer events that promote the expression of positive emotions and the feelings that come with fresh starts.
How we interpret stimuli determines our responses. We act based on the stories we tell ourselves. For example:
Is this picture good or bad? If you’re a dog person you might think this dog is playing. If you’re not, you might think the dog is vicious. We filter information through our own lens, and construct stories about the world.
Martin Siegelman is the University of Pennsylvania psychologist who gave us the idea of learned helplessness. He describes this process of interpretation in his 3P model. (7) He says that, when we encounter an experience, we might define it as personal, , and pervasive. For example, let’s say we’re struggling with an assignment in a computer science course. The table below are the alternative interpretations, according to Siegelman’s model.
As we can see, a negative event seen through the three Ps is potentially harmful to a person’s self-image and ability to perform. But reframing the experience to show that it’s impersonal, impermanent and specific is compassionate and can help people bounce back.
As leaders, we provide the context. We don’t need to twist a bad experience into a good one—we can simply acknowledge it. Then, depending on the event, we decide whether to reframe it. Some bad things are so horrible, we should just affirm people’s feelings and be with them. But for your average, everyday failures: reframe it.
Take it out of that personal / permanent / pervasive space.
Retell the story as a bad experience with a finite context that doesn’t confer blame or foretell the future. Give the experience meaning.
In business, we can tend to focus on intellect and will. Old school, Type A winners flourish on vending machine food, florescent light, and four hours of sleep, right? To fix performance issues, we have told our employees (and ourselves) to power through. So it’s inconvenient to acknowledge that we, and our teams, are basically animals with a strong connection between what we experience, how our bodies respond, and how we create organizational results.
Today, we have the knowledge and tools to do something about it—to foster resilience and high performance. It’s a strategy not only for these tough times, but for sustained success.
- Recognizing resilience: Learning from the effects of stress on the brain – ScienceDirect
- Stress: The roots of resilience : Nature News & Comment
- Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement – Article – Faculty & Research – Harvard Business School (hbs.edu)
- When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
- Martin Siegelman’s Positive Psychology
Maintain Your Organization’s Work Style During Big ChangeTransformation is stressful enough. Don’t make things harder by losing what works. Focus on these three areas to stay true to your organization’s work style.
Work style is how things get done. It’s the day-to-day manifestation of your organization’s culture — the unspoken way we work and deliver projects. It’s framed by purpose and guided by values.
During times of intense change, it’s important to be aware of your organization’s work style, and to honor it. Transformation projects are stressful enough to knock even the strongest of us off-course. The best way to help your organization is to stay true to what works for you.
There are three key areas of focus.
Communication. How much communication does your organization need? What kinds of communication work for you? The channels might be formal, informal or a combination. Every organization is different. For example, if your teams are highly focused on running an operation, or they are spread out geographically, you might need dedicated, in-person events like town halls to reach them. Who are credible messengers to spread the word, — managers or respected peers? It’s critical to know what it takes to get employees to focus their attention.
Consensus Requirements. Does your organization run on consensus? The answer drives the speed of decision-making. Whose opinion matters? If all the key people need to buy in, build in time to gain that consensus. Identify which stakeholders have to bless each decision, follow a process, and make sure the teams know their voices have been heard. Depending on the topic, you might need less consensus. Take advantage of that – push work to the lowest-level teams that can make the decision.
Relationships vs. Structure. To what extent does work get done through deep relationships vs. systems and process? If relationships are important, plan for that. Create a framework that fosters relationships. For example, create robust onboarding, recognition methods, and celebration rituals. Relationship-based cultures will resist too much structure if it’s visible. If your teams are more systems-oriented, lean on those processes. But be careful – it’s easy to ignore a well-oiled machine. Make sure you review processes — at least annually — to ensure they help employees to their best work. Identify and close any gaps.
Clarifying your organization’s best working styles helps leadership strike the right balance between empowerment and accountability. And it makes any big transformation so much easier.
So, what’s your style?
Virtual OnboardingWhat we know about brain science can give your new employees a great transition to your team.
Make it familiar, controlled, and successful.
The pandemic has forced many businesses into a work-from-home model. Well-known companies like Google and Facebook won’t have workers return to their offices until at least January 2021.
But hiring does not stop. How do you onboard employees virtually? How do you get them engaged and performing through a screen?
Most of us are acquainted with the mechanics of virtual onboarding. There’s already been a lot written about the basics:
- Welcome the new hire with something tangible like a plant, gift basket, or company-branded gear.
- Keep each virtual onboarding session short and interactive.
- Use strong presenters.
- Expand the elapsed time for onboarding from one or two days to as many as 30 days.
- Issue surveys to gauge engagement and solicit feedback for improvement.
But we think good virtual onboarding has to go deeper. When you’re onboarding employees, you’re asking them to change their behaviors—do this, in this way, to this standard. You are also hoping to reinforce their positive feelings about the organization, so they feel welcome and they are part of something great.
Science tells us that if we want behavior change to work, we should make it feel familiar, controlled, and successful.
Our brains see new things as dangerous, so change – like a new job – can create feelings of resistance. But familiarity, as mentioned in other posts, feels “safe.” You can activate those feelings of safety in your onboarding program.
Determine what makes most new employees feel great about the employer—for example, the culture, the brand, the physical environment, the great people, and the proper supports and resources. Highlight those familiar “feel good” elements in your welcome video and guest speakers. The more you remind them of what they already know and like, the better.
Use video tools that are familiar to most participants. We all know Zoom. Many of us will not be familiar with GoToMeeting or TeamViewer. Make the login to the virtual onboarding easy. First impressions matter.
Include live speakers or filmed testimonials from people who look and sound more like your new employees. If your new hires are in their 20’s and mainly Black or Brown, they won’t connect as well to, let’s say, middle-aged White men.
Repeat certain onboarding activities throughout the program; for example, use weekly check-ins with their boss and a peer coach. Over time, these events will start to feel familiar.
Humans love to feel in control. Giving new hires the feeling of control reduces anxiety and frees their brains for learning and executive functioning. You can do this by building in structure, predictability, and choice.
Develop an onboarding timeline and share it repeatedly when meeting with the new hires. For example, if a group of new hires connects every week, show them the timeline with a “you are here” marker.
Provide new hires with the right tools: laptop, easy connectivity, digital onboarding tools, and job aids. How about a new hire portal or MS Team Site to house all this information? Include FAQs and key contact information they can have at their fingertips.
Give them some choices up front: Surface or MacAir? Flextime vs. standard business hours?
Build some flexibility into their onboarding tasks so they can exert some personal control over their schedules and not feel like their new employer is programming every minute of the day.
Winning releases dopamine, the brain’s feel-good chemical. And sharing success promotes oxytocin, the connection hormone. You can build success into your onboarding program.
Small and simple successes might be things like signing up for health benefits or getting their parking pass activated. Highlight each successful step. Consider gamification to track these successes, with a nominal reward or recognition at the end.
Handling some of their new job activities, with support of their new manager and peers, will also make them feel successful. Keep things small and simple in the beginning, so you are sure they will complete them correctly. (Failing at one of these tasks will produce the opposite effect!) Have managers give new employees coaching and feedback along the way. You could even build completion and sign-off into your gamification approach.
New hires feel more successful when they feel they are becoming part of the team. Interpersonal and social successes count too! Can’t gather at the local sports bar? How about a virtual happy hour or beer bash? Schedule some virtual team lunches or coffee breaks—the company could pay to have the meal or coffee delivered to the new hire.
The last word…
Create your company’s onboarding experience to promote feelings of familiarity. New hires will feel they’re more in control of their transition when you include choice, structure, and predictability. And they’ll feel more successful if you provoke the feel-good chemicals in their brains through small wins, feedback and rewards, and orchestrated virtual events that make them feel like they belong. It’s a different world right now, but people are still the same. What we know about brain science can give your new employees a great transition to your team.
Dear CoronavirusWhile many have suffered from a devastating health crisis, COVID-19 also opened our eyes to the need for real transformation.
Emerson’s Off-the-Clock series captures the personal thoughts of our consultants.
As strange as this seems, I have a love/hate relationship with you. While so many around the world have suffered in the last few months from a devastating health crisis you caused, you also did something good. You exposed our flaws and opened our eyes to the need for real transformation.
At first, we were at a loss. You forced us to stay at home and we didn’t know how to handle that. Work from home? Be at home? With the entire family? 24/7? Home-school our kids? In a world where everything has become social, offices have moved to blue-sky models, collaboration is king, companies have moved to face-to-face and personalization as the best ways to communicate…here we are, suddenly isolated.
What’s old was new again. Families started to eat dinner together, watch movies together, play board games, and do puzzles. As we began to social distance, institutions on the verge of going under, like drive in movie theaters, began to surge.
More importantly, we saw positivity and creativity. Communities supported each other with food and supplies. Businesses got creative about how to work and how to deliver to customers.
The whole world began to think differently, work differently, relate differently, and behave differently.
Then, the death of George Floyd happened. Suddenly, people came together in a different way—in a protective and resilient way. And while you did not cause that, you set the stage for it. You stoked a feeling that we must stand up and fight to survive. That if we can survive you, we can survive a lot. And that, when the racism reared its ugly head— again—it would not be ignored.
This time, we had already rallied around a cause. You reminded us that, standing together, we are more powerful. And that’s when something beautiful happens. We behave differently. We say “No more. Not on my watch.”
So while you continue to linger in our lives like a toxic cloud (and, in a cruel irony, attack people of color more savagely than the rest), you have revealed our power. You helped us realize that, while we can’t control you, we CAN control some things.
Dr. Martin Luther King wrote,
“Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
You poured alcohol on the open wounds that need to heal. You’ve brought light to things that need to be more visible and voices to those who didn’t realize they could be so loud.
You showed us what it means to slow the day down, appreciate what we have, love each other, stand up for what we believe in, and maybe even restore our faith in humankind. You reminded me of the power of real change— transformational change. I still hate you. But how amazing it is to be part of that.
Scale Your Workforce in Tough TimesAt Emerson, we think of talent management holistically -- it helps achieve the business outcomes you want. But how can you streamline the process? Download our latest whitepaper to learn how.
Familiar, Controlled, and SuccessfulThere is a lot of research on the brain and behavior. Science can tell us why we feel and act the way we do. At Emerson, we like to take scientific findings and use them to help you get the business outcomes you want. There are three principles, based in science, which can help you […]
There is a lot of research on the brain and behavior. Science can tell us why we feel and act the way we do. At Emerson, we like to take scientific findings and use them to help you get the business outcomes you want. There are three principles, based in science, which can help you make any organizational change or learning program better. Science tells us that if we want to implement something new in an organization, we should make it feel Familiar, Controlled, and Successful.
The first principle is Familiar. Our brains see anything new as a threat. We feel fear. Familiarity can make a new thing feel safe and valuable. Familiarity is created by comparing the new thing to your past experiences. Compare the change to something good. Compare the change to something bad. Use what they already know. And, of course, we know stories are powerful. So you can use a story as the vehicle for each of these. I’ve used story telling on many of my projects. Typically, I find executives or experienced / well-respected managers to share stories that help make the change to feel familiar. Also, use repetition. Perhaps the information is new to people when you start the project, but if you keep repeating it over and over, it becomes familiar. I do this by having multiple resources sharing their stories.
The second principle is Controlled. Our brains don’t like uncertainty and they don’t like feeling vulnerable. Giving people predictability and control lowers anxiety and unleashes people’s potential to plan and organize. Control is created by giving a change predictability and structure, and by giving people choices. Share a schedule or project roadmap to help those impacted by the change to understand when things are happening. This helps them to schedule the rest of life which gives them some control during the change. Also, Frequently Asked Questions provide stakeholders with additional information which helps them to feel control.
The third principle is Successful. Brain research tells us exactly why winning feels good. And why winning together feels even better. A feeling of success is created by engineering small wins and celebrating milestones. One way to make someone feel successful doing something new is by breaking that new thing into small, simple tasks. Another way to make people feel successful is by making the new thing doable. Also, be sure to make your change measurable. Being able to measure it helps to show when goals are being achieved. Once those goals are achieved or those milestones are met, use rewards to encourage people to continue moving forward with the change. In past projects, I’ve set it up so that teams who are showing progress, get recognized by the company. This encourages them to continue moving forward and it helps the rest of the organization see how things should be done based on the new way of doing business.
Creating connections between your change and other experiences makes people feel it’s familiar, which turns off fear, makes the change feel valuable, and helps people remember it. Adding choice, structure, and predictability makes the change feel controlled, so people feel less anxious, more engaged, and get to use their brains’ executive functions. Engineering small wins; measuring; providing feedback and rewards; and celebrating make people feel successful, activating the feel-good chemicals in their brains. Use the simple strategies outlined here to make your change feel Familiar, Controlled, and Successful. In doing so, the change will be more quickly adapted in your organization. Good luck!
Three Thoughts on a MergerOur thoughts on how to have a successful merger.
Morgan Stanley and E*Trade. Bristol-Myers Squibb and Celgen. United Technologies and Raytheon. Regardless of investor reaction, mergers and acquisitions this big undoubtedly strike fear in the hearts of employees. And people have only so much focus and energy—when they’re in survival mode, they aren’t that great at their jobs. So what are responsible industry titans to do? We have some tips.
Start talking now.
It’s natural to want to delay messaging until there is perfect alignment and all facts are in order. But if you don’t communicate, you create a vacuum, and you know how nature feels about that. The space where your message should be will be overrun by rumors and falsehoods. So before the deal is done, start getting leadership aligned on a message. Start cascading it through both organizations as soon as possible. Research shows that during uncertain times, employees crave trust, stability, confidence, and empathy in their leaders. A consistent, compelling message is what they need.
Address the culture clash.
Too often leaders ignore company culture, both before the deal is signed and throughout the integration. We know that a single culture is difficult to shift. Combining the cultures of two organizations is double trouble.
The first step is to know you have a culture. We suggest using the PRIDE method. Assessments will create detailed pictures of both company cultures. Then, take a look at all plans through the culture goggles of each company’s employees. What works for one might not work for the other.
For example, let’s say the company you’re acquiring is has an “everyman” culture. Maybe they are used to all-hands meetings to socialize every change. So do that. Find out which big changes went well for the company, and liken the acquisition to that experience, creating a feeling of familiarity and safety. And pay attention to words and symbols; for this organization you might do well with high-touch images and talk of family and community.
The bigger the change, the more hecklers you’ll have, and a merger is as big as it gets. So how do you confront the critics? You don’t. Focus your energy on the “sweet spot”—those employees who are open to change and who can influence your outcomes. Enlist them as project advocates. These grass-roots change agents can create momentum toward a successful merger.
In the very best of Ms and As, there are rough seas to navigate. You can ride the waves more easily by mastering communication, culture, and resistance.
How to Handle Resistance to ChangeHow do you confront the hecklers disrupting your change initiative? You don’t.
You’ve probably watched a heckler interrupt a public speaker. Maybe you’ve watched – on video or in person – as a performer or politician has to deal with mocking or derisive comments, shouted from the crowd. Maybe the speaker answers back, or security escorts the heckler from the venue.
Change initiatives can have hecklers too. They usually don’t shout down a speaker; they use other ways to criticize and disrupt.
It’s to be expected. People are resistant to change. Hecklers might say negative things about your project or predict it will fail. They might even try to sabotage project activities or influence others to join in their negative campaign. You might secretly wish you had security to escort those hecklers from the building! But that’s not going to happen.
So how do you confront hecklers? You don’t.
Here’s what you do. Instead of seeking out and addressing every critic of your project, focus your energy where it counts. Figure out who has the ability to influence the success of the project. Are some of those influencers mildly resistant or mildly supportive of the change? Those people are your sweet spot. They matter, because they can affect the project. And they’re not so strongly against your project that they’re beyond persuasion. Your sweet spot is that group of hecklers that you could actually turn into advocates, with a little effort.
But how do you bring them over from the dark side? Communication and involvement are your tools.
Communication. Ask: What do they care about? What are the benefits of the change to them? What negative consequences will they feel if the project fails? What do they need to hear to make this change seem like a good idea?
Involvement. Ask: How can we help them own the change? Where can we leverage their expertise? What has resonated with them in the past to spur them to action? Based on that, what how can they participate? Focus groups? Governance? Serving as subject matter experts?
So don’t confront all of your hecklers. Instead, focus on those in your sweet spot. Continue to communicate, engage, train, and support them as you execute your change management plan. As the project bandwagon grows, the fans will drown out the hecklers.
Three Factors to Consider in Cross-Cultural Change ProjectsCulture matters when designing a change approach that impacts a global group. Start with these three factors.
Change is hard for all of us, no matter where we sit in the world. However, when a change project spans multiple geographies and cultures, we must adapt our approach. Too often, global organizations disregard cultural nuances and fail to understand that the perception of change, organizational or otherwise, is not consistent across the world. They gloss over cultural norms and value systems and the initiative suffers.
Here are a few cultural factors that might impact your change projects and some recommendations on adjusting your approach.
Cultures share power differently. Some place all authority and decision-making at the top of the organization, while others distribute the power more evenly.
For example, I was working with an executive of a state-owned enterprise in China. They were launching a new ERP system to almost a million employees. We were discussing the best project management and governance approach. The executive said, “I don’t need any of that. I just tell people what to do and they do it.”
As it turns out, that wasn’t just the view of the executive, it was the view of the entire organization. Nothing got done unless and until he said it got done. This didn’t mean that workers had no point of view or that they didn’t want to be consulted. It only meant that no action would be taken unless it came from the top.
Think about how this might impact the way we engage employees during a change project. In this instance, top-down is everything, so we might consider videos or other communications featuring executives. Regional alignment is still needed, but it’s less important than in cultures where authority is distributed more evenly.
Aversion to Risk
We all are risk-averse. After all, who likes uncertainty? It’s really the trade-off between risk and reward that matters.
Some cultures are more entrepreneurial by nature and are more willing to take risks if they believe the benefits will follow. That same spirit permeates the workplace; employees are more willing to change if they buy into the benefits. Messaging benefits is always important, but more so within risk-tolerant cultures.
In cultures where employees are less willing to give up certainty for future benefits, you might take a different tack. Here it’s important to create a new certainty – to make the point that the current state is not sustainable and that future stability relies on the change. Additionally, these cultures want to see more structure around the change. It must be highly engineered and deliver proof of a new order.
A few years back I was working on a project in the Philippines with a local businesswoman. She had a very successful consulting company and wanted help with her sales processes. After digging in, I was surprised to find out how many of her engagements were collaborations with her direct competitors. Not partnerships, but true collaborations where resources were traded back and forth and co-managed for the benefit of the client. Neither firm took advantage of the other, nor did they undermine the other’s position in the engagement. It was amazing to watch.
Cultures with a collective mindset value the contributions of the group over the individual. The opposite is true of individualistic cultures; in these cultures, a team-based recognition and reward structure might actually be demotivating and create conflict and distrust. It is critical to understand the collective vs. individualist mindset during the change process, particularly when we think about alignment and messaging.
In the United States, we have a more individualist approach and build our change interactions accordingly. We don’t tend to spend a lot of time and effort positioning the change’s value to the firm and to society in general. It’s about the WIIFM, and making sure individuals view the change as a positive step for themselves and their careers. In Sweden, however, this approach might feel unsettling or even shallow.
It’s important to understand what motivates people to change and those motivations might be completely different in a multi-culture change initiative.
Our culture impacts the way we view change and consequently how we should approach change management in multi-cultural implementations. In the end, change management is about changing behaviors. If we believe that behavior follows thought, then we first need to understand how cultural norms and values influence the way the organization thinks. In multi-cultural change initiatives, our interactions should motivate and support each culture according to its own set of values.