When you’re working hard on culture change, it’s natural for your team to feel skeptical.
After all, you’ve been thinking about this for a while.
You’re committed to engagement and making a difference.
You may wonder why your team isn’t breathing a huge sigh of relief and jumping on board. After all, your vision for the future is compelling and engaging.
It’s also likely they have questions of their own about your motives, your follow-through, and what will happen next.
How do you help your team navigate their narrative about what happens next?
You wouldn’t have known he was going there.
There was no pre-workshop to help him Navigate the Narrative.
We were facilitating a leadership panel at an executive conference, when George, a financial services operations director asked for the microphone.
Here’s his story.
I served in Afghanistan. One day we were driving through the desert in two Humvees. I was a passenger in the lead vehicle, and the other was close behind when I noticed that our driver was driving very fast and it didn’t feel right. I was getting more and more nervous. You see, I’ve been trained. I knew how dangerous this was. But I didn’t want to be seen as a backseat driver, so I kept the feedback to myself. Finally, I took out my GPS and tracked our speed. We were going seventy-five miles an hour on those damaged streets! It was too fast for the conditions, but I still didn’t say anything. Then, my buddy looked back and we realized that the second Humvee was no longer behind us.
We turned back, and sure enough, it had flipped. We lost a man that day. I’m haunted by the fact that I could have saved his life if I had just spoken up.
Then he continued.
The stuff (building a courageous culture where people speak up) we’re talking about today is real. The concern you’re sitting on might not be life or death, but it matters. We need to care enough to tell one another the truth—and we don’t always do that. We have to figure out how to do this well. Today is an important start. I look forward to hearing your ideas.
George was off to a powerful start with a clear message: “Your concern matters. We need to care enough to speak the truth.”
That’s clarity about the culture you are working to create.
Hopefully, you don’t have a story like George. Thank goodness, we don’t either.
But you do have stories that matter, and your team needs to hear them.
4 Questions About Culture Change Your Team Wants You to Answer
When you start talking about building a more courageous culture, most employees will have four big questions on their minds:
1. What do you actually mean?
They want to know how this will look in their day-to-day world. Whether you hear this question or not, these are the thoughts people have as they wonder exactly what you’re talking about:
“When you say you want us to be Customer Advocates, can you give me some real examples?”
- How will I know what’s safe and when I’ve gone too far?
- When you tell me you want my innovative ideas—what kinds of ideas? How do I ensure I’m not wasting time on ideas that don’t matter or won’t get funded? What kinds of problems should we focus on solving?
- How do I position my ideas in a way that will be heard?
- And, oh by the way, are you sure my boss is on board? Because he’s the most risk-averse micromanager I’ve ever worked for. What are you going to do about people like him?
- And if you really want me to be courageous, how do I speak up when everything you’ve laid out here isn’t working—how do I do that without being labeled as negative?
2. Why does it matter?
For many employees, this will all sound like a lot of extra work, so they need to understand why the culture you described is better—for everyone. Be sure what you are describing is true.
We once heard an executive tell his team he needed their best thinking “because we’re in the fight of our lives,” meaning a competitor was breathing down their necks and the company’s stock price was in jeopardy.
We happened to know that several people in that room really were in a “fight of their lives” with a sick family member, a kid on drugs, an aging parent for whom they had to make tough choices, and other major life challenges. His tone-deaf remark was lost on them, as they nodded politely and went back to doing their work the way they had always done it—his “why” had backfired.
3. Can I trust you?
Your team won’t be able to hear anything you say about courage and innovation without first watching what you do—very closely— to see if what you do matches up with what you’ve said. They also want to see if you pay attention to what others do.
4. What is expected of me?
The only way to shift culture is to change behaviors.
As you know from any shift you’ve made in your own life, it comes down to one behavior at a time. You can decide you want to be an Ironman triathlete, but if you’ve never run a 5K, you start by lacing up your shoes and going for a short run. If on your first weekend, you tried to take swimming lessons to improve your stroke, weight training to build endurance, and ride your bike over Vail Pass, you’d end up discouraged, sore, and not much fun to be around.
Unless you are in the wonderful, unique position of building a culture from scratch, as in a few of the fast-growing start-ups we’ve had a chance to work with, there’s probably no reason to announce “We’re building a Courageous Culture!” We encourage you to read this book with your team and visualize what success looks like. We’ll give you a way to do that in the First Tracks section at the close of each chapter. Then, pick one set of behaviors and work on those first. What would make the biggest difference for your organization—more problem solving, more innovative ideas, or having your team more focused on advocating for the customers?
George picked one place to start. “We need to care enough to tell one another the truth.” Sure, he wanted great ideas, for teams to share best practices across geographies, and more strategic problem solving, but he knew that for his team, what came first was the courage to speak up when something isn’t right.
What questions do you find coming up as you work to build positive culture change?
What are your best practices to help your team navigate the narrative?