By Jeff Evans
“How do we change the culture?” It is a question I have been asked many times while facilitating Flawless Consulting workshops. The answer? “One conversation at a time.”
Participants of Flawless find a lot of value in the tools and concepts we cover to be more collaborative and to get their expertise utilized. However, they share that a big barrier to collaborating is the culture- in particular, the behavior of upper management. I spent over 30 years inside large organizations, and I have felt the same way at times. I found myself thinking and saying, “I could be more collaborative if my boss and my clients let me.” For some reason, I felt I couldn’t change if they didn’t change. What I have learned is if I wait for others to change, at any level, I will be waiting a long time. I need to focus on my own behaviors and attitude about how I want to work and relate to others.
A key element and skill of Flawless Consulting is exchanging wants with the people I am trying to influence. This means getting curious about what the other person wants as well as being clear about what I want. Easier said than done in organizations where the culture values hierarchy, command, and control. When I am in a support role, trying to influence others with position, power, and authority, it can be easier to focus on their wants and ignore my own. When I do this, I am putting myself in a position to be an “order taker” or “pair-of-hands.” It seems that this is the role many managers want their people to take. “I’m the boss/client/leader; just do what I ask you to do.” This is the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) belief in many organizations.
The antidote to being a non-assertive order taker is to change the conversations you are having with your clients, bosses, and leaders. The first step is to get clear about what you want, and the second step is to have the courage and skills to ask. Ask yourself, “What do I want from this leader in order to do my best work?” We aren’t asking for what we want to be selfish. On the contrary, we want to do our best work for the organization. To do this, we have things we want from others.
Getting clear about what we want is the easier step of this process. The more difficult step is having the courage to ask, especially if the culture doesn’t support asking for things from upper management. Ask yourself, “What is the risk of asking for what I want?” Then ask, “What is the risk if I don’t?” Start having these conversations with the people where the relationship is strong. Don’t start with your most difficult relationship. You will build confidence and courage the more you try it.
Will the culture of the entire organization change from this conversation? Probably not. However, the culture within your sphere of influence will begin to change when you change the conversations you are having. We are operating under a social contract based on command and control. It’s time to renegotiate the social contract. As more people in the organization move toward this collaborative conversation, the culture will begin to shift. Don’t wait for others to change the culture. Have the courage to change your conversations to create a culture of your own choosing.
Get the skills you need to get clear on your wants and help to inspire larger transformation and change within organizations and communities.