Cultivating a Change Culture on Your Team

Cultivating a Change Culture on Your Team

This guest post is by Matt Dunsmoor, Founder of Salt & Pepper 30s and Business Development at Start with Why. 

Most businesses today try to remedy surface-level symptoms like trouble innovating, inability to scale processes, and difficulty adapting to the marketplace, rather than treating the true root cause: institutional inflexibility.

Most companies are great at building initial processes and expecting individual employees to constantly improve. Unfortunately, they don’t provide the tools and education at the organizational level to allow employees to act on that growth. The result is a competitive edge that fades over time due to an inability to handle organizational complexity at scale. Employees and teams are frustrated by a structure that expects them to change, yet is too brittle to grow with them.  

At my previous gig working for an e-commerce giant, I led internal software development, website services, and digital video teams, and saw this scenario play out time and time again. And now as a consultant, most of the problems I see ultimately arise from change aversion within the team. But when you create an employee base that is adept at engineering organizational change, you'll be amazed at how some problems in seemingly unrelated areas become easier to address. Here are three easy steps that will help you create a change culture on your team. 

1. Set a standard of transparency on your team 

Big changes at work are hard: they often involve a steep learning curve, time away from “working,” and a lot of mistakes. And when your livelihood is at stake, it's tough to sign up for that without at least understanding why the change is necessary.

On my teams as a Product Manager, I’ve found that opening up the data to your team makes tough asks a lot more palatable. On your team, this might look like Friday meeting where everyone can hold open discussions and ask leaders questions. It may look like a robust project management system that tracks what’s happening across the entire team. Or it may just be a process for communicating change that includes all the information that went into the decision. Whatever it is, make sure that it fits the personality and specific needs of your own team. 

2. Create a bias toward action through constructing an environment of constant, positive change

Another big barrier to change for employees is inertia. Going from a seated position to a sprint take a lot of effort, but going from a jog to a sprint is a lot less daunting. Organizational change is no different. If we get used to the status quo, even a small change feels like a monumental task. But if we're constantly making slight course corrections, implementing a large-scale change becomes just another day at the office.

On my team at Start With Why, I’ve implemented an award called the "Golden Toothbrush." Every first meeting of the month, we pass the Golden Toothbrush to the member of the team who has demonstrated that they’ve adopted a new, healthy habit that made a positive impact on someone else on the team. It's then up to the winner to go out and find the next month's winner, and make a toothbrush for them. This leads to more discussions, resulting in a more connected team that is always thinking about healthy changes.

3. Make an explicit definition of what positive change looks like

Most of us have worked for a manager that “led by book report”—they read a book or watched a TED Talk, and BOOM! Your team's using a completely new practice.

Change for the sake of change can be worse than keeping things the same, so define what “healthy change” means in your realm. Sit down with your stakeholders (AKA your team) and put together some criteria around what success looks like. Then, whatever you do, ABIDE BY THEM. As a leader, it’s your job to pull the “veto” card as little as possible—every time you do, you create a rift between you and your team. 

Takeaway: While challenging employees to constantly improve and encouraging them to grow is a great starting point, it’s not enough. To make your organization more adaptable, establish processes and policies that support healthy change on a regular basis.

Have you found a better way of working with your team? We welcome guest posts, so drop us a line! 

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