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Do you need to change yourself in profound ways to drive cultural change in your organisation? No and yes.
No, you don’t need to, in fact, that might set the bar way too high from the start. In her book, “The Insiders Guide to Cultural Change,” Siobhan McHale, demonstrates from her successful change project at ANZ bank in Australia, that effective cultural change is built on leaders and employees reinventing the roles they play everyday. It’s not a deep personality change, but rather learning and following new scripts in everyday interactions.
Blame-gaming is a script. Rumour-spreading is a script. Responsibility shifting is a script. I-can’t-make-a-difference talk is a script. My colleagues are incompetent is a script. All of these can be disrupted and re-engineered. And this book aligns with my experience over the last 25 years of transforming organisations through leadership.
In any successful cultural change, first of all, leaders (yes, YOU) have to start taking responsibility for their negative scripts, i.e., words and actions that reduce the effort, confidence and trust of others. And this is particularly true in critical situations when steam is pouring out your ears and your guilt-shame indicator is in the red.
Here are some examples of scripts in UNSAFE cultures:
- “The customer is wrong”
- “Customer service don’t know what they are doing”
- “R&D are incompetent and slow”
- “Sales people are stupid”
- “HR is the thought police”
- “Employees are lazy”
- “Nobody has any ambition or guts around here”
- “Why am I the only person who cares about quality”
- “Next time, bring someone who knows what they are doing”
- “Fix it or else”
- “I don’t care how you do it, just get it done”
- “Don’t ever do anything like that again without my permission”
- “No matter what we / I do it won’t make a difference”
Negative-labelling, finger-pointing, shaming, condescending, self-handicapping, ego-tripping, bitching and moaning are some of the most common scripts in organisations that kill growth. When your bosses and colleagues talk like this, it’s almost impossible to chose an alternative GROWTH script.
- “What can we do about it?”
- “We have all got some responsibility for the outcome”
- “I’m sure she didn’t mean that, I know she wants to do the right thing”
- “I have an idea”
- “Let’s go and talk to them”
- “Let’s explore who we can do this differently than in the past”
- “They know what they are doing, we just need to give them a clearer set of directions”
- “Nobody come to work to do the wrong thing”
- “Let’s give it a try”
- “I don’t like criticism, but what if they are right? What do we need to change?”
- “It’s a really tough situation, but the only way to succeed is we have to work together to solve it”
My experience is that everyone knows the Growth scripts, they just get sucked into an UNSAFE culture. It’s like littering. When everyone is tossing their trash on the floor, it becomes harder to use the waste paper bin.
So, you don’t have to change your deep personality to create a Growth culture. But you do need to change how you talk and act. It’s just a script. You don’t even have to learn the lines. All you need to do is make an active choice to talk GROWTH rather than SHIT: Scripts that Handicap Innovative Teams.
Author of Safe2Great, keynote speaker on psychological safety and growth mindset