“Decision making is an art only until the person understands the science.”
―Pearl Zhu, Decision Master: The Art and Science of Decision Making

The average adult makes about 35,000 conscious decisions daily (Sahakian & LaBuzetta, 2013). Considering the amount of time we spend on this, have you ever stopped to think how you could be more effective at making conscious decisions? Even the time of day we make a decision can affect the outcome. So, what is the best time and moment to make important decisions?
Let’s consider an excerpt from a study published in 2011, on how the time of day influences our decision-making ability.
 

Decision Making and Time of Day

 

“Three men doing time in Israeli prisons recently appeared before a parole board consisting of a judge, a criminologist and a social worker. The three prisoners had completed at least two-thirds of their sentences, but the parole board granted freedom to only one of them. Guess which one:

    • Case 1 (heard at 8:50 a.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.
    • Case 2 (heard at 3:10 p.m.): A Jewish Israeli serving a 16-month sentence for assault.
    • Case 3 (heard at 4:25 p.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.

There was a pattern to the parole board’s decisions, but it wasn’t related to the men’s ethnic backgrounds, crimes or sentences. It was all about timing, as researchers discovered by analyzing more than 1,100 decisions over the course of a year. Judges, who would hear the prisoners’ appeals and then get advice from the other members of the board, approved parole in about a third of the cases, but the probability of being paroled fluctuated wildly throughout the day. Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.

The odds favored the prisoner who appeared at 8:50 a.m. — and he did in fact receive parole. But even though the other Arab Israeli prisoner was serving the same sentence for the same crime — fraud — the odds were against him when he appeared (on a different day) at 4:25 in the afternoon. He was denied parole, as was the Jewish Israeli prisoner at 3:10 p.m, whose sentence was shorter than that of the man who was released. They were just asking for parole at the wrong time of day.”

 

Making Effective Conscious Decisions

 
Our decisions are influenced by external circumstances and the effect these have on us personally.
Making Effective Conscious Decisions
The time of the day is a big one! How rested or tired, how hungry, stressed and/or rushed we are at that time, among other things, are crucial conditions to keep in mind when wanting to make more effective decisions.
Here are my main takeaways about making effective conscious decisions based on different cases, studies, and science:

  • The mental work we do over the course of a day wears down people’s decision-making capacity.
  • As our energy is depleted, the brain will look for shortcuts. One shortcut is to make more impulsive decisions, the other is to postpone decisions. Which do you think is the more effective route?
  • These experiments demonstrated that there is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control. That’s why it’s harder to resist temptations at the end of the day.
  • Part of the resistance against making decisions comes from our fear of giving up options. The word “decide” shares an etymological root with “homicide,” the Latin word “caedere,” meaning “to cut down” or “to kill,” and that loss looms especially large when decision fatigue sets in.
  • Once you’re mentally depleted, you become reluctant to make trade-offs, which involve a particularly advanced and taxing form of decision-making.
  • Glucose level influences decision-making. Do not make decisions on an empty stomach.

So, what does this all mean for making effective conscious decisions? We may not always be able to control the external factors influencing us, but by being aware of them, we can choose to postpone important decisions or take care of ourselves in a better way to make them more effective.
 

If you would like to know more about effective decision making, meetings, and commitments, check out my webinar, Making things happen: improving the way we make decisions.

 
Sources used in this article: Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? and “Extraneous factors in judicial decisions” by Shai Danziger, Jonathan Levav, and Liora Avnaim-Pesso

In the first article of this series, we shared the specific challenges we witnessed when launching an Agile Leadership Program at a leading financial services company. In the second article, we shared our thinking around the principles that informed our approach. Now in this third and last article of the series, we share the top lessons we learned alongside the participants and sponsors of this journey.
 

What we would keep doing

    1. Preserve the spirit of wholehearted co-creation. As a consulting firm, we have our proven methods and tools. However, we chose to be highly vigilant and not drink our own Kool-Aid. Show me practitioners who have only a handful of red lines and are willing to adjust everything else on their book, and I will show you professionals who truly put clients first.
    2. When working with top leadership, there is a weight attached to their positions – conscious or unconscious. We genuinely strive to connect from human to human, scrapping all titles. Now we insist more often that leadership journeys begin with coach and coachee sharing a virtual coffee, free from agenda, simply for the sake of connecting.
    3. We will continue to act on feedback as if our lives depended on it. This is no minor task. The distinction between integrating feedback and accepting to do everything your client asks for is not commonly understood. It takes serious preparation.
    4. We will always honor the past AND look forward with curiosity.

Is Agile Shaping Your Culture by Accident or by DesignAllow me to emphasize this fourth lesson for a moment. Agile is often presented as the remedy that will heal all corporate ailments. This is overly simplistic, and some may even consider it an insult to their intelligence. However, the natural tendency of this person is to sway to the other end of the pendulum and negate any benefit of the new way of working. This, too, is foolish.
Many leaders feel trapped in a false dilemma because they think they are facing an either-or choice when we present the gap ‘From-To’. Either we are pro-command and control OR anti-command and control. When we introduced polarity thinking, this subliminal tension dissipated. We honor where we are coming from AND (not OR) acknowledge that moving forward, we need to do some things differently. In Dr. Marshall Goldsmith’s words, “What got you here won’t get you there.” It was no longer a problem with a single solution (agile or bust) but rather a polarity to manage. For leaders, that meant they needed to maximize the time spent on the benefits of agile and the benefits of what preceded it, instead of viewing agile as a new, unquestionable dogma.
 

If we could take a Mulligan…

If you’re not familiar with golf, the term Mulligan means a ‘do-over’. It’s a second try given to a player, without penalty, after a first stroke that did not go well. So, if we were granted a Mulligan, there are some things we wouldn’t have done or that we would have done less.
 

What we would do differently

  1. We are executive coaches, so we didn’t think it was necessary to connect with the agile coaches in the organization. We figured that our work was different. In hindsight, this was a missed opportunity to join forces. In future assignments, we would make it a point to connect the ‘do-agile’ and ‘be-agile’ parties.
  2. We took the sponsor’s brief for granted. Our prototyping, co-creating approach saved the day in the end, as it allowed us to pivot from the original learning journey design. Nevertheless, in the future, we would push for an if-then scenario planning. If the brief is accurate, we will deploy plan A; if it isn’t, we will go with plan B.
  3. We used an in-house feedback tool. We knew it was not ideal and we wouldn’t compromise on it again. A robust feedback tool provides participants excellent traction for change. It is paramount to select it with care.
  4. The preliminary design allowed several weeks between group workshops, and only two individual coaching sessions per participant seemed sufficient. Experience tells us that it is far more effective to shorten the time between team sessions to keep the cohorts focused and on-task. It would also be wise to dedicate a higher number of individual coaching sessions than we had initially planned.

 
These are the lessons we learned behind the scenes of one of the boldest adoptions of agile in a non-tech industry. Are there any lessons that you would like to share around leadership development in an agile context? Have you had similar experiences or were they entirely different? Let us know in the comments! We would love to have a mutual learning conversation with you.

In the first article of this series, we shared the specific challenges we witnessed when launching an Agile Leadership Program at a leading financial services company. At Axialent, we deliberately expose and analyze ‘the gap’ before we intervene. We call it the ‘From-To’. It helps us gain a deep understanding of the problem and empathize with our clients as we embark on co-designing the solution with them. In this second article, we share our thinking around the principles that informed our approach to this Agile leadership journey.

The Journey

Following is an illustration of the Agile leadership journey:


It consisted of three collective workshops, each a few weeks apart, and individual coaching sessions in between them. During these 1:1 encounters, the coach and participant worked on the coachee’s commitment to experimenting with his/her behavioral change. Full disclosure: this structure was presented to us as a suggestion based on successful deployment at the Executive level with another business partner. We took it on to adapt, test, and learn further with the remaining top-200 leaders (executives included).

The Participants

The first aspect of this program was defining the target audience. Traditionally, our client would offer leadership development programs at their corporate university campus, as the location where they ‘built culture’. They liked to mingle leaders from around their geographical footprint, resulting in diverse cohorts that did not necessarily work together daily. This had its pros. However, we wanted to test a new approach: we directed this program at intact teams, meaning leadership teams that worked together every day. We believed that this would allow them to have more earnest conversations around real-life challenges that affected them all directly. The most significant plus for us was that they could make commitments that genuinely mattered to their shared agenda. Participants would be primed for mutual accountability.

Cadence

agile team workingThe second aspect that made this program different was that it was not designed as the typical immersive, residential, intensive x-day workshop. Instead, we scheduled shorter interventions several weeks apart. This design was deployed before the pandemic, so the sessions were held face-to-face. Nevertheless, this concept has survived to this day as a valid structure for most of our hybrid or purely online leadership development journeys.

Test & Learn

Another principle we followed was a prototyping approach of sorts. We ran pilots for each group intervention and led retrospectives where feedback was gathered from participants as if our lives depended on it. We moved past the typical satisfaction survey and got extremely curious about the participants’ experiences. Which were their ‘a-ha’ moments and pain points? When did they flow? With whom did they connect? What did they learn? This provided a wealth of feedback that we integrated into the last legs of the journey.

Shared Accountability

Lastly, we took a shared responsibility approach to facilitation. Both coaches and participants were responsible for the best use of the group’s time together. This is not a new concept, but it gained even more traction as we added elements to the program that emphasized this approach: each program milestone ended in commitments, draft experiments, individual and collective action plans, and a learning buddy system for participants to hold each other accountable for their learning goals. The burden was not on the facilitator; we equally distributed it among all involved. And in teams where circumstances changed mid-journey, both leaders and their facilitators jointly decided how they would shape the agenda differently moving forward.

As you can imagine, some things worked, and some things did not click at first. Far from disappointing us, we confirmed that the approach was valid: prototype, test, gather feedback, integrate it, learn, and share the responsibility to improve iteratively and incrementally. This was an agile learning journey after all. We would not have it any other way. Or would we? In the next and last article of this series, we will share the top lessons we learned alongside our clients as we deployed this leadership journey.

We look forward to exchanging points of view and continuing to learn together if you’d like to comment below!

Doing agile is challenging but being agile is transformative. Where is the right place to start? There is no one right answer. But first things first. What is the difference between doing agile and being agile?

Doing Agile

Agile is not a methodology; it is a mindset you can apply in your life and your way of doing business. Agile is common in the software development industry, but any industry can use and benefit from the agile mindset. For me, doing agile is about implementing specific behaviors or ways of doing business based on four values and twelve principles (the Agile Manifesto). Therefore, a way to do agile is to implement frameworks or methods that are very powerful to organize, collaborate and prioritize tasks and workflows in a team such as Scrum or Kanban.
Most teams try this approach. I don’t think it is wrong, but I do think it is incomplete. When teams focus just on using SCRUM, they forget why they are implementing agile. In other words, they can’t see the forest for the trees. Agile is not about speed. It is about producing better outcomes for the business in a rapidly changing world. For example, a team measures the number of new features (outputs), rather than new subscribers (outcomes). It is okay to have deliverables, but new features do not guarantee business results.

Being Agile

Being agile, on the other hand, is about transforming your mindset. It has to do with how you understand the world. It encourages a new way of leading teams, developing a product, or testing ideas. Being agile is transformative because it forces us to put the customer first and focus on developing the things that matter.

Why Being Agile is So Hard

Being Agile is common sense, but not common practice. It goes back to the Waterfall Project Management framework. This way of managing was created during the industrial revolution. The goal was to find the best way to optimize a production line. Things are different now because the speed of change is so high that companies need to adapt every day. And what is tricky about change is that it’s not so fun. Change means constantly learning and coping with uncertainty. And learning with the wrong mindset means failing, which touches our insecurities.
doing agile vs being agile
I remember coaching a Product Manager to include an experimentation mindset in their agile sprints. In order to do this, she had to coordinate experiments with a team of UX designers and developers. The team was struggling because everyone wanted to have everything perfect. It’s okay to pursue doing things right. The problem is when perfection is a way to keep your work within your comfort zone. For example, their focus was on having the perfect design or the perfect line of code. Instead, they should have been trying to understand the impact their new features would have on their customer. But they preferred to focus on what was less scary for them: the technical output.
Everyone had a reason for this. The PM was new to the role, so she did not want to measure outcomes because, for her, that meant she did not understand the customer well enough, and she was not ready for the role. The developer did not want to measure outcomes either because his job was to make a button work and get that perfect algorithm. He did not see himself as having to change the customer behavior. The UX designers did not want to test with mockups. Instead, they had to do things properly and follow their internal procedures as good design mandates.
This makes sense because it is harder to commit to impact customer behavior (outcome) than to produce an output. It is hard because apparently, the former is not under the team’s control. And this is true if you look through perfectionist lenses, but it is not the only way.

The Simple Solution

Sorry, there is no simple solution. But there is a solution. I will summarize some key points, but I also want to anticipate that agile means implementing a profound cultural transformation and that is a complex process that takes time.
As a manager, you need to accept the impact of working under agile. You cannot ask teams to use Kanban but have a two-year roadmap of features that the team needs to develop. Instead, it would be best if you adopt a learner mindset. As Jeff Gothelf says, you are creating an infinite product. A product that is constantly evolving with the market, and you can’t know what the market will want in two years. A learner mindset implies testing and learning (failing) repeatedly.
Second, test and learn is tough if you don’t create psychological safety for your team to explore the unknown. This is a new way of leading in which leaders need to be capable of having crucial conversations to understand what failure means for each individual on his/her team. The best way to incentivize this is to stop appraising faster outputs, but faster learning cycles. Retrospectives or reflections are crucial but do not focus only on technical issues. Explore the individual dimension. This can start with a simple question: How did you feel during the experiment?
Finally, as a leader, you need to create a shared vision where everyone understands that a line of code impacts the company’s ROI. You need to be consistent and aligned with the results you demand. It is okay to have clear objectives and key results (OKRs), but they should be centered on changing customer behavior.

Conclusion

To sum up, being agile can sound cool and imperative, especially in these crazy times. Sometimes we want a quick solution — we might think agile can be the vaccine to get everything under control again. But things do not go back to normal with quick fixes. Conscious leadership is more relevant than ever. We need to change our mindsets, being players and learners who take care of each other at every step of the way. That is, for me, the best way to be agile.

At Axialent, we are not experts in Agile. Our expertise lies in helping organizations build the cultures they require, in light of their business strategy, and develop their leaders to be living proxies of that culture. In the last two decades, agile has emerged as an unstoppable practice among organizations, and it is changing their cultures.

The question for us is: are you managing the resulting culture change intentionally? Is agile shaping your culture by accident or by design?

Adopting an agile way of working can be fraught with challenges. We experienced this first hand when we launched an Agile Leadership Program at a leading financial services company. I’d like to share the lessons we learned behind the scenes of what was probably the most audacious adoption of agile in a non-tech industry.

We accompanied the top 200 leaders of this organization, in 24 cohorts, across 11 countries, in a 6-month long journey that combined coaching them individually and as leadership teams. This gave us a privileged vantage point to observe their struggles and the gaps they were trying to bridge.

In this first article of a series, we will focus on the specific challenges we witnessed, because we follow this principle: ‘no gap, no coaching.’ Clarifying the gap before we intervene helps us gain a deep understanding of the problem, empathize with our client, and offer higher chances of finding an adequate solution to prototype, test, and learn.

Here are some of the conclusions we reached after exposing the gap:

1. Agile brings about a new leadership paradigm and not just a more effective way of working.

It is hard to imagine companies embarking on an agile transformation and taking it lightly. They aim to become much better in terms of quality, time-to-market, productivity, and, above all, employee engagement.

Most believe that adopting agile unleashes talent, makes team members accountable and generates one-team dynamics. Other firms might be driving a similar shift, but they’re not calling it an agile transformation. The name is not what matters.

Beyond the rituals and ceremonies they adopt, or the frameworks they embrace, the essence of today’s business transformations lies in changing how leadership is felt, conceived, and performed, in a way that is radically different. This happens in most cultural transformations. The difference that agile brings is the context.

2. From rigid, hierarchical ‘command-and-control’ leadership to servant leadership 

In this company’s context, the gap for leaders was shifting from a rigid, hierarchical ‘command-and-control’ leadership style to a servant leadership style.

This change required the top-most executives to give up being the center of the organization. They were now expected to be at the service of the teams who worked closer to their clients than the leaders ever were. They were supposed to coach those teams, instead of giving them detailed instructions.

Leaders’ main focus now had to be on removing any and all obstacles that prevented those teams from delivering value to the customer as quickly and effectively as possible. Even if those obstacles were the leaders themselves.

Can you see how counter-intuitive this could be for an executive who climbed the ranks by being a good soldier, was promoted for being a great soldier, and just as he or she was about to reach the summit of a 2-decade-or-more climb is told ‘sorry, the glory is down there?’

3. From micromanagement to  autonomy, engagement, and empowerment 

For employees, the central gap was shifting from a culture of micromanagement to one where autonomy, engagement and empowerment are expected, exercised, and promoted.

The intention was to evolve from being managed and having linear career expectations to self-managing themselves and their own career. Why? Because this company believed that it would help them shift from feeling resignation, skepticism, and fear of feedback to feeling engaged, empowered, and looking at feedback with openness and acceptance. The logic was attractive. However, change was not automatic.

From Do Agile to Be Agile

At Axialent we believe that, for any change that truly matters, it must operate first at the Be-level. It’s in that mushy place where thoughts & feelings, values & beliefs, and needs & wants reside (and that top execs seldom look at from so high above) where we have found the most significant leverage.

From there, the leaders and those they lead can shift behaviors more effectively at the Do-level. Training people how to do agile was not enough.

They needed to dive deeper and actually be agile.
In that deep side of the pool, there is anxiety, tension, and even fear among leaders and team members alike. “What will happen to me and my career in this company?”, “How can I protect my safe haven?” “Will we increase risk by letting go of control?” “What do you mean that control is ‘bad’? We’re a regulated company! Control is not only good – it’s mandatory!”

Reconciling these dilemmas was suddenly part of their job description. They looked at their toolkit and realized they needed a different set of tools to deal with this new reality. So, we set off to replenish them from our stock.

Understanding these gaps helped us walk in our clients’ shoes as we embarked on this journey alongside them. In the following two articles of this series, we will explain the design principles we followed and the most prized lessons we have learned and would apply in the next opportunity that comes our way. Come along for the ride!

Many companies begin their culture journey motivated to make big changes. While the intention of major change is there, some will lack the follow-through to sustain focus and solidify lasting change. Taking the time to measure the progress of your culture in a conscious, intentional, and continuous way is important to keep your initiatives on track.
The first step for many organizations is to conduct a baseline culture assessment, typically consisting of quantitative and qualitative data. The purpose of the assessment is to identify their ideal culture, measure the current culture, and find out where the gaps are. This data helps leaders get aligned on their vision, as well as to better understand the mindsets, values, and beliefs that are widely shared in the organization, and how they may enable or get in the way of attaining results.
As the culture transformation process unfolds – roadmaps are defined, workshops are conducted, communication strategies are implemented and change agents are mobilized – measurement typically goes to the bottom of the priority list.  Rarely do we find that the same level of rigor that was used in the assessment step is applied to measure the progress and impact of culture change initiatives.  The approach is often limited to informal sensing based on unstructured conversations and casual observations, or relying on employee engagement surveys, which seldom measure shifts in mindsets and behaviors. This makes it hard to pinpoint where are we making progress and what we need to do to accelerate the change.
However, administering comprehensive culture surveys and conducting multiple interviews and focus groups may not always be feasible if you want to keep the pulse on the change and assess progress in a continuous way.
Here are some ideas to help you design your culture measurement strategy:
 

Identify where you are in your culture journey

Have you recently started your culture transformation effort?  Have you already started mobilizing people and launching initiatives?  Understanding where you are will help you define what you need to look for (your key hypothesis and key research questions) and the data sources that will be most helpful.  For example, you could assess the following:

  • Change readiness – Do you want to see if leaders and employees are aware, willing, and able to drive change?
  • Culture drivers – Do you want to see how effective the new programs or initiatives are?
  • Mindset changes – Do you want to assess if the desired culture mindsets and behaviors are becoming norms?
  • Outcomes – Do you want to understand how culture is impacting key business and people results?

At the beginning of your culture journey, you may want to focus on measuring change readiness and the effectiveness of culture initiatives.  As your process takes root, you can focus more on behavioral and outcome measures.
 

Identify potential sources of data

Since culture is experienced, the best insights typically come from a mix of quantitative and qualitative data.  Based on your key research questions, you can strategically identify potential data sources (such as employee lifecycle surveys, leadership 360s, performance evaluation forms, training feedback, sentiment analysis from employee comments, or feedback data) that can be re-imagined for intentionally capturing meaningful culture insights.  If your focus is more on assessing outcomes, consider conducting advanced analytics, integrating people metrics (such as engagement, retention, development and performance measures) with employee surveys and customer data.
 

Identify potential experiments

Many successful culture change initiatives are rolled out in phases.  This gives the organization the opportunity to learn and adjust, create success stories, and form culture champions.  The phased approach also lends itself to measuring the impact of the culture initiatives over time for certain groups and to compare the differences among groups who have experienced the change vs. those who have not.  Designing and measuring experiments will help you refine your approach before committing to bigger investments, make participants an active part of your broader change process, and assess the ROI of your initiatives.
 

Conclusion

Your strategy to measure the progress of your culture should be aligned to the mindsets that you are looking to drive – whether it is agility, innovation, accountability, or inclusion.  Be intentional and approach the measurement process with curiosity – you are not looking for a pass or fail grade, but for powerful insights that will help you shape your best next step in your culture transformation journey.

If you ask any leader, “What has been one of the most defining moments in your career?” most likely, the answer will be related to leading a significant organizational change.  This is not surprising: our brains are wired to remember peak moments more vividly. These are experiences that capture us at moments of achievement or courage; or moments that change our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.1
Organizations place a lot of value on leaders who can effectively lead others through change.  In fact, effective change leadership is a common competency used to identify and develop high potential employees.2 However, despite the importance that both leaders and organizations place on change leadership, many organizations lack an intentional strategy to help their leaders become effective change-makers.  Many of us are guilty of having used the ‘sink or swim’ approach disguised as ‘on the job learning’.  Intentionally or not, we throw our up-and-coming talent into leading changes in an environment that is increasingly complex and unpredictable without the benefit of a foundation to help them along the way.
For on-the-job learning to be effective, it needs to reinforce the behaviors we are looking to shift or embed. This means that we need to define the guiding principles of how we should lead through change and the experience that we want to provide our change-makers, employees, partners, and clients.  The benefit of talking about ‘how we lead change’ goes beyond leadership development. It sets clear norms of behavior and common expectations of how we will measure success while empowering our change-makers to ask for what they need.
 

How can we best prepare our current and future change-makers? 

It’s useful to think about the actions that we can take preemptively, through more structured leadership development, coaching, and resources. We should also consider the ‘just-in-time’ support we can provide to help leaders navigate a change event.
The good news is that there is significant overlap between what makes an effective change-maker and what makes an effective leader.  Development activities (such as training and coaching) that encourage leaders to increase their self-awareness and growth mindset and help them become more resilient, inclusive, accountable, and collaborative, will also help them be better change-makers.  In addition, change-makers need to be good at storytelling, influencing, and systems thinking. To maximize impact, we need to be intentional in helping them understand how they can apply these leadership skills in a change situation.
 

As they get ready to embark into a large-scale, high-impact change, we can support change-makers in two dimensions:

  • Change acceptance – In order to lead, change-makers need to be willing to move. In many situations, we ask leaders to take on new initiatives on top of their current responsibilities.  You can increase their willingness to lead by creating a space to intentionally discuss how this initiative fits into the broader organizational picture and what’s in it for them personally.  When they intentionally set their personal goals – whether it is to accelerate their development, build their network, gain a broader enterprise view, learn new skills, or do something with impact – they will feel valued and more energized to take on a new challenge.
  • Change-related skills – Leaders need to feel able to lead the change. Beyond the resources and information needed to execute the ‘what’ of the change, they also need access to practical, ‘just-in-time’ change management guidance and tools. Instead of providing theoretical change toolkits and training that few people will use, employ a design thinking approach to uncover what would be most useful for change-makers as they navigate large-scale change.  This may include practical tools, like a change playbook tailored to your organization, and targeted coaching/advice to discuss ideas and overcome challenges.

Our change-makers can survive a change event, or they can consciously experience and lead the change.  This will not make the change less complex or challenging, but it will help them approach the experience with a different mindset, less fear, and a higher level of confidence.  It will also help advance the business goals that the change is looking to achieve and help build organizational agility and resilience.
 

References
  1. Doll, Karen. (2019). What is Peak-End Theory? A Psychologist Explains How Our Memory Fools Us.com
  2. Fernandez-Araoz, C., Roscoe, A., Aramaki, K. Turning Potential into Success: The Missing Link in Leadership Development. Harvard Business Review, November–December 2017 Issue

When it comes to culture transformation initiatives, complying with change is different from committing to change. For it to be successful, leaders need to be committed to changing how they think, act, and interact. You can’t force this kind of change… at least not sustainably. An essential part of closing the gap between where an organization is now and where they need to be is providing a clear roadmap of the culture plan. This is an important step toward making the necessary changes.
 

Creating the roadmap for culture change

 
The results of the tools we use in Axialent to measure the current and ideal culture (OCI® Organizational Culture Inventory® and OEI® Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®) and the leadership styles and behaviors (LSI® (Life Styles Inventory®) allow an organization to identify levers for change, so they can establish a detailed action plan for successful change management and measure their progress.
Developing an action plan for culture change requires planning for deeper, longer lasting transformation. It is not your regular change management plan.
It needs to cover the following aspects:

  • People need to understand the change, what it implies, and most importantly, why they should change.
  • They need to overcome any negative emotions associated with the change and connect it with positive emotions.
  • They need to be capable of change.
    The “Shadow of the Leader” is long. People will seek their leaders’ example of what it truly means to change. By using the LSI®(Life Styles Inventory®)tools from Human Synergistics, we provide leaders a powerful roadmap for themselves, that weaves neatly into the organizational roadmap because it is built on a common framework and a shared language.
    Most leaders easily “get” what needs to be done at an intellectual level. However, bridging the gap between knowing what they need to do and actually doing it requires working on a deeper level – what we call at Axialent the “being” level. Leaders have to become the leaders that the new culture needs them to be before we can aspire to achieve any true change and get others on board.
    Traditional training is insufficient for this – adaptive learning is a must in most cases.

Only after addressing these three factors can you expect people to be willing and committed to change.
 

Next steps – some food for thought

  • An action plan CAN be simple. It all boils down to who does what, by when.
  • Think of action planning as a proxy of the culture change you want to see. For example, if you want to foster a culture of greater accountability, empower autonomous teams to lead action planning for culture transformation in their sphere of influence and hold them accountable for progress and outcomes.
  • Consider mapping stakeholders by subcultures instead of the usual employee segments and check if this adds value to your action plan.
  • When you have a powerful suite of tools like the LSI, OEI, and OCI, you remove the guesswork from prioritization. You will have the main causal factors that will move the needle toward your desired culture. Concentrate on the handful of measures that will create the most impact instead of merely scratching the surface with various initiatives.
  • When you plan, test if executing short sprints instead of rolling out a titanic change program adds value. Carve out time in your plan to pause, re-measure, and recalibrate your plan itself.
  • Don’t wait until the end to conduct a post-mortem. Make learning an ‘action’ in your action plan by ensuring you will collect and analyze feedback and, more importantly, make time to integrate feedback.
  • Clearly lay out your options once you receive and analyze feedback (for example: pivot, persist, or pull the plug) to facilitate decision-making when that time comes.

 

Conclusion

Ensure that your roadmap for culture change includes actions that get people to truthfully say: “I understand why I need to change, I feel excited/happy/______ (<- your positive emotion goes here) about this change, I feel capable of changing what I am asked to change, and I’m committed to do so”. A clear roadmap of the culture journey will help to ensure success in implementing real and lasting change.
 
 

One of the biggest questions we are asked when working in culture transformation is how do we spread the word across the organization? How do we align all the cells of the organization towards this common goal and embrace change? Creating a common language throughout the organization accelerates culture change.
Shaping a leader’s behaviors is key to culture change. They are the inspirational figure of success within the organization. People look at them and copycat their behaviors, as they represent what is expected, the way we “should behave,” not only to be part of the organization, but to be successful.  Any culture transformation will start with helping leaders walk the talk. This is critical to committing to change and creating confidence that it is real and that we are taking it seriously.
“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Talk” is important. What is communicated about the transformation journey, when aligned with a leader’s behavior, systems, and symbols across the organization, helps accelerate change and enables people to feel part of the journey. The way we tell the story of transformation to ourselves and others can have an inspirational power when connected to a purpose and values.
Language shapes reality. The way we talk, the distinction and words we choose, reflects what it is important to us, what we believe, and what we value and the possibilities we seek to create. However very often, we see organizations that invest a lot of effort to talk about their desired culture, but generate very little impact on people.
 

So, how can we successfully create a common language across the organization to accelerate culture change?

  • Connect culture (HOW) to your purpose (WHY) and vision (WHAT): Establish a clear link between your purpose, leadership behavior, culture, and organizational performance. This will give meaning and a clear intention to everything you do. It will help you build a clear picture of the type of culture you need to achieve your strategy and fulfill your purpose.

 

  • Define your desired culture values, attitudes, and behaviors and re-signify “words” when needed: Do not assume everybody holds a common understanding of the same words. For each distinctive behavior, include statements clarifying what IT IS and what IS NOT. Define which behaviors you wish to see/avoid in the organization to deliver sustainable results.The use of diagnostics tools for culture and leadership such as the ones we use at Axialet, the  OCI® (Organizational Culture Inventory®) and OEI® (Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®) in combination with the LSI® (Life Styles Inventory®) are integrated tools. We use them to measure organizational cultural norms and leaders’ behaviors. They help create a common language around the desired cultural norms and leadership styles. When using the OCI, OEI, and LSI, we usually hear organizations and leaders talking about their culture and leadership styles in terms of colors to refer to existing cultural norms/behaviors: passive(green) or aggressive (red) styles or constructive (blue).

 

  • Let’s talk about it: Every conversation and interaction is an opportunity for leaders to talk about the desired culture and role model the desired behaviors.

 

  • Everyone’s contribution matters: When creating a common language, include everybody. Educate people about the desired culture through engagement and communication events. Ask everyone to articulate what is special about the culture and how they contribute to it. Encourage participation and open dialogue.

 

  • Offer clear examples and stories about “our culture in action”: Share stories about leaders exemplifying the new culture. Acknowledge the misses and advances in the learning journey. Changing culture means changing deeply engrained beliefs and it requires a huge amount of grit, resilience, and compassion.

 

Conclusion

When changing culture, creating a common language is a necessary phase for everyone to feel invited, understand its implications, and jump on board. If it happens too soon, before some critical steps are put in place, it may have an opposite, effect generating distrust, disengagement, confusion, and ineffective behaviors from people across the organization.
It reinforces culture change when a holistic culture change approach is put in place: vision and values have cascaded,  leaders are walking the talk, mains systems (eg: performance & talent management) are aligned to new behaviors, and some symbolic changes have happened.
 
Watch the recording of this live webinar where two of Axialent’s culture transformation experts, Thierry de Beyssac and Anabel Dumlao, talked to Tim Kuppler, Director of Culture and Organization Development for Human Synergistics, about the importance of intentionally managing culture and leadership development in an integrated way.
 
This article is part of a series on integrating culture and leadership change in culture transformation work.
5 Reasons To Integrate OCI-OEI And LSI Diagnostic Tools In Culture Transformation
Culture Change: Culture and Leadership are Intimately Connected
Culture Change: For Culture to Change, Leaders Must Change
Culture Change: Measuring the gap makes the invisible, visible

Water is like the culture of an organization, it is always there, but often we don’t see it.When we want to explain culture in our conversations with clients, we often use the metaphor of the sea. We ask participants to put on their imaginary wetsuit for a moment and imagine exploring the waters of a crystal clear ocean. We project a beautiful image of the ocean and ask that they share what they are seeing. They tell us about spectacularly colorful fish, corals, a variety of algae, and rocks. But hardly anyone mentions the water. Clearly, the water is there as an important part of that ecosystem, but it is almost invisible. Water is like the culture of an organization, it is always there, but often we don’t see it.

Measuring the gap makes the invisible, visible

Perhaps you are familiar with the following quotes: “if you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist”. Or “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. Or in its positive version: “what’s measured gets managed”. That is our goal when we combine the OCI® (Organizational Culture Inventory®), OEI® (Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®), and LSI® (Life Styles Inventory®) tools in our culture transformation projects: we make the intangibles, tangible. We make something that can be as invisible as culture and individuals’ thinking and behavior styles “real” to be able to manage them properly.
I would like to share a recent case to illustrate how we work. A company founded 5 years ago has been working on defining its noble purpose, values, and the associated behaviors. Their ambitious strategy for the next cycle is making them question whether the company’s culture will be ready for such a feat. The culture journey that we propose includes the following elements:

  • Describe and quantify the desired culture. Although the company believes the work they have been doing to define their desired culture is sufficient, we encourage them to use hard data to articulate their ideal culture. This is critical to later identify and measure the gap with the current culture and avoid any type of subjectivity. In order to do this, we use the OCI Ideal tool and qualitative research (interviews and focus groups).
  • Measure and understand the current culture. We use the current OCI and OEI and qualitative research tools (interviews and focus groups) to understand the behavioral norms that employees believe are expected or implicitly required of them to succeed and ‘fit in’ at the organization.
  • Finally, we use the LSI with the leaders to understand their respective thinking and behavioral style.

The results of these three tools are shown on a visual graph that allows us to “see and measure” the thinking and behavioral styles that are driving the performance of leaders, as well as the organization itself.

Why effective measurement is so important

  • It makes the culture challenge “real”. Measurement brings to the surface and measures what was previously hidden. This reduces subjectivity and sets a benchmark measure.
  • It provides awareness about the gap. Not only does it show the gap between what leaders say they value (ideal culture) and the realities of the current cultural norms driving the behavior of individuals, but it also leaders better understand how the organizational culture challenge links to their individual development challenges.
  • It sets accountability. Organizations and leaders take responsibility for their behaviors and the data provides the drive for change.
  • It gives clarity about the path that needs to be followed and helps to prioritize where to focus the effort.
  • It tracks progress, re-assessing with the tools after developing the culture change plan.

Conclusion

Culture can be as invisible as water in the sea, yet its immensely important role is ever-present. Using a clear and defined approach to defining the ideal culture, the current culture, the leadership styles and behaviors, and identifying gaps gives us a clear path forward and makes the invisible, visible.

Watch this live webinar recording where two of Axialent’s culture transformation experts, Thierry de Beyssac and Anabel Dumlao, will be talking to Tim Kuppler, Director of Culture and Organization Development for Human Synergistics, about the importance of intentionally managing culture and leadership development in an integrated way.

This article is part of a series on integrating culture and leadership change in culture transformation work.
5 Reasons To Integrate OCI-OEI And LSI Diagnostic Tools In Culture Transformation
Culture Change: Culture and Leadership are Intimately Connected
Culture Change: For Culture to Change, Leaders Must Change