Every organization can be better. In fact, the steady, unstoppable drive to improve processes and deliverables is what separates a dynamic business from their mired down peers. Yet there is no manual that states with certainty how to keep an organization flexible, nimble, and driven. Leaders pay lip service to changing a business’s culture, but new Mission Statements or afternoon motivational seminars do not shift culture. A recent O’Reilly Business article defined culture as being about “our behaviors.” Culture, then, is about how we behave and how we talk to and treat one another. A leader cannot expect their values to permeate the organization unless they consistently model the behavior they wish to see.
The old model of revising organizational culture suggested that changes in thinking inspired changes in behavior. But, employees and clients can become quickly disillusioned when a leader’s actions do not match lofty statements about organizational objectives. Instead, a new perspective sets the old model on its head, recommending that leaders change behavior to inspire shifts in organizational thinking.
A New Model for Shifting Organizational Thinking
John Shook championed this new model. He was the first American manager hired by Toyota and he immersed himself in the culture of the Japanese company, observing that managers at Toyota listened to employees and encouraged experimentation, reflection, and improvement up and down its organizational chart.
Shook’s model, in which transformation originates in real organizational behaviors, requires companies to actually shift how they do business. O’Reilly describes implementation of this strategy at a one hundred year old engine manufacturing company, Wartsila. Leadership provided sponsorship of four teams to explore new ideas and ways of working. Rather than simply asking these teams to do research, management tasked them with implementing their strategies. In only eight weeks, teams would provide deliverables using these new methods. Management gave them authority to customize spaces and processes. O’Reilly provided guidance, tools, and innovation framework.
Shook’s philosophy requires managers to embrace change and the failure that is expected when experimentation is encouraged. The teams posted their ongoing results, which allowed the entire organization to participate. This displayed management’s new commitment to behavior-first strategic implementation.
See a Sermon, Rather Than Hear One
Change, initiated by “spearhead projects,” such as these, can kickstart shifts in culture. Especially projects that involve the right people and leadership’s full support. This commitment to behavioral change, broadcast live throughout the organization, can spread much more effectively. In this way, employees are like members of a congregation who are more affected by seeing a sermon, rather than simply hearing one.
Without transparency and consistent words, actions, and vision from the top, an organization is bound to its past and forces of entropy. With behavioral-first strategies prioritizing desired actions, an organization can become a dynamic, driven team that views challenges as opportunities. And leaders, through their actions, can fearlessly inspire team members to build solutions and become better every day.