Acolleague asked me a question last week that made me think for a while before answering. “How do we find
out if our initiative to drive a new culture is
going well, or not at all?”
It is an important question. I propose that
the obvious answer, “The metrics will show
it,” is an insufficient answer. The metrics are
a lagging indicator of change. Also, while we
may have chosen metrics that we hope or
believe will show change as a result of our
initiative, there may not be any direct cause-
and-effect link between their performance and
Direct observation is the best way to determine if our drive to change the culture is working. By merely being present we can get a
feel for whether people are accepting the new
way or resisting it.
Unfortunately, many businesses are not
confined to a single location or a small collection of people. If we are trying to drive a
change, we can’t possibly keep our own eye
on the change, or lack of change. What then,
as my colleague asked, can we do to know?
I supply the following axiom: The culture of
a society is reflected in the habits, behaviors,
and choices its people make.
To know if a culture is adjusting to our
vision of a better way, we must create a method of sensing those habits, behaviors, and
First, we must know what behaviors we are
expecting to observe. Hopefully, we identified
those behaviors as part of our change execution plan. If so, we should already know what
we are looking for. Fundamentally, we want
behaviors that reflect the following principles:
• Decisions based on new way values
• Actions according to desired ideals
• Question or proposals aligned with new
• People speaking appropriately with the new
Second, ask personnel and leaders to
observe and report. The key is to decide
what is going to garner the most effective
Decide how often you want people to
report. Do you want weekly reports? Do you
want observations from everyone, or just lead-
ers? Or do you only want observations from
personnel who are not in leadership posi-
tions? My advice is to get information from
everyone, and to keep it simple.
One example is to ask the top-tier leaders
to pick one direct report each week to provide
quick feedback. If the person chosen happens
to be a leader of direct reports, he or she
should pass on the feedback request to a single direct report. The next week, the top-tier
leaders should pick a different direct report.
Along with getting feedback through some
simple sampling methods, we must make it
simple for people to respond. If it’s difficult,
or if it takes much time or effort, people will
If you have numerous questions you want to
ask, break them up so that some people get
one or two questions, and others get more.
The easier it is to answer the question, the
more responses you will get.
Also, ask questions that are going to get
you some insight. If you can compel people
to give you short written answers, those are
best, but be prepared for a fair number to
wet your appetite for an explanation without
giving one. It can be controversial, but it can
be informative to ask people what they believe
other people believe.
I have one final piece of advice about asking questions and hoping for answers: The
best tool for encouraging people to respond
is to report how many people answered out of
how many were queried. Report the general
mood, even if it does not reflect what you
want it to reflect. A charismatic leader can
turn a bad report into motivation to propel the
change. If people think their responses and
ideas are disappearing into a black hole, they
will stop sending them into oblivion. However,
if they see that someone is listening, they will
continue to talk.
Third, we must know what to do with our
feedback. Don’t react to everything, but look
for consistency, patterns, and trends. Let the
feedback present you with small problems to
define, attack, and solve.
Strive for progress; don’t expect leaps and
bounds. Be aware of a cascade affect that will
take place. In the
tance will be the
popular stance. Don’t be offended, it’s natural.
Relentlessly fight that hard battle to drag
people along. Peer pressure is like gravity.
In the beginning it will keep people in the
resistance zone. However, as more people
begin to accept and adopt the new way,
peer pressure will help motivate more people
into adoption. Don’t get too carried away try-
ing to turn feedback into metrics of progress.
They should be indicators. You can make
counts and statistics out of them, but they
are not data.
Keeping a sense of the progress of our culture change is essential. It is relatively simple
when we have direct access to people’s habits, behaviors, and choices.
Asking questions is the best way to get
answers. Know what behaviors you are looking for, and ask people to tell you what they
witness with regard to those behaviors.
Knowing the shape of the battle is key to
influencing it. Just remember to keep it simple.
Stay wise, friends.
If you like what you just read, find more of
Alan’s thoughts at www.bizwizwithin.com.
By Alan Nicol
• Tim Balz, Founder & President, Freedom Chairs
• Marty Boykin, Ph.D., Director of Consumer
Durables & Tritan, Eastman Chemical Company
• Robin Gray, Chief Operating Officer & General
Counsel, Electronic Components Industry
• Ron Jr. “Reg” Gustafson, Vice President of
Business Development, Clinkenbeard
• Mike Littrel, President & Founder, C.ideas
• Harry Moser, President, Reshoring Initiative
• Alan Nicol, Executive Member,
• Mike Rainone, Co-Founder, PCDworks
• Drew Rink, Senior Manager of Manufacturing
• Paul Scheidt, Product Marketing Manager, LED
• Lanny Vincent, General Partner, Vincent &
• Anna Zevelyov, Director of Business
Development, Artec Group
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD
Board member To determine how well your culture change is progressing, don’t rely on metrics, assess
behaviors and decisions.