The very human side of culture change

The very human side of culture change

Leadership, Personal Growth

Written by Tracey

April 3, 2023

There are so many books written on “how to” effect cultural change – did I mention… so many?  However, very little is written on the human experience and consequence of affecting and being at the effect of a massive shift.

Fostering relationships during times of major transition can go a long way toward creating positive outcomes for everyone involved. ~ Tracey Burns

Coaching Employees During Change

First of all, I thought I’d share a little about what it is actually like to be in the trenches of this experience, partnering with employees who strive to be effective and efficient leaders during transition. The journey with them is heartwarming and challenging all at the same time.

Ironically, the individuals I have worked with have likened the experience to a battle from the perspective of the  front lines. The only constant in their battle is that change is the new normal. Who they led yesterday may not be who they lead today or even two weeks from now. They’ve had to become comfortable with the discomfort of constant change. Like battle, a cultural shift is not at all for the faint of heart.

We All React Differently To Change

Not surprisingly, we all have a unique reaction to change. Some of us can sustain change for long periods, while others must know it will be short. Some of us embrace change, while others become unsure and fearful. “Will I be enough to survive this change? Will my skills be relevant after the change? How can I adapt my skills and experience to contribute? What kind of leader do I need to be now to thrive in this environment? And while we’re at it… can you support me in understanding this new environment? I can’t quite articulate what I’m experiencing; I know that what I knew yesterday is no longer serving me, and I’m scared.”

What Employees Agree On

Surprisingly, there also interesting common threads. Each individual expressed the need for an articulated clear vision and reassurance. In all cases, there was a deep desire to align with the changes and fit in. (Different from agreeing.) Sometimes they simply didn’t know how to communicate their alignment or to whom.

There’s No Such Thing As Over-Communicating

Each individual also reported that had there been acknowledgment and clarifying communication they would have navigated the transition more effectively. Here are some examples: “We are amid great change and transition, the experience may be overwhelming, stressful, and confusing, bear with us.  We acknowledge your willingness to stay the course; we appreciate your loyalty and willingness to continue in your job… “. These simple examples would have made difficult situations more bearable.

No, You’re Not Alone

In each case, I also heard the same question over and over, “Am I the only one experiencing what I’m experiencing, or are others feeling the same as me?” These questions were driven by a need to know they were not alone. Reassurance allowed them to normalize their experience and also to make healthier, balanced choices about the amount of time they spent at work compensating for temporary overlaps in their responsibilities.

An Organization’s Culture IS It’s People

In conclusion, these situations underscore the need for an org to communicate frequently, directly, consistently and compassionately, focusing on human beings during change.  Blanket emails and announcements are inadequate. Getting out from behind the boardroom table is imperative to be with the people on the front lines of this change.  After all, an organization’s culture IS its people, their language and their actions combined, form the organization’s culture. 

Effective Communication is Critical and Caring

Ultimately, culture change requires a commitment to understand the human experience and acknowledgement of the immense courage and resilience of those leading the charge. Effective communication has been proven to be invaluable during shift. Creating meaningful connections between leaders on the front lines and those in upper management invaluable. By implementing simple strategies, any organization has the capacity to foster positive outcomes for all those involved in major cultural transitions.

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