Sgt. Pepper’s and Andi Simon on Changing a Corporate Culture

Thomas Fox

I often wondered where the concept of an alter-ego band in the seminal album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was derived. It turns out that Paul McCartney came up with the idea while on sojourn in France. As Jordan Runtagh related in his article for Rolling Stone, the trip reminded “McCartney what he missed about his extraordinary daily life. “I remembered what it was like to not be famous and it wasn’t necessarily any better than being famous.  It made me remember why we all wanted to get famous; to get that thing. Of course, those of us in the Beatles have often thought that, because we wished for this great fame, and then it comes true but it brings with it all these great business pressures or the problems of fame, the problems of money, etc. And I just had to check whether I wanted to go back, and I ended up thinking, ‘No, all in all, I’m quite happy with this lot.’”

I thought that was a good way to introduce today’s blog post of a podcast interview I did of Andrea (Andi) Simon, the Principal of Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC) and author of the new book On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights. Simon is a corporate anthropologist and works with corporations to improve culture and effect change. In the interview we discuss how Simon’s background gives her a unique insight into corporate culture and how that insight informs the work of SAMC. She discusses why she wrote On the Brink and how leaders can use it to effect cultural change, bring businesses greater success and drive profits. Simon has developed a six-step protocol for changing culture in an organization. Being a process guy, I was very intrigued by her approach and went into some detail on it with her.

Simon noted, “In a corporate setting, leaders espouse values, beliefs and expectations so people know what to do and how to get it done. Everything is fine until something begins to change and that culture must change, too.” Simon suggests any business facing the need for a culture change should try these six steps:

Step 1: What your culture is today? You should consider what you value in terms of six key areas: dominant characteristics; organizational leadership; management of employees; the glue that holds the organization together; strategic emphases; and criteria of success. Simon evaluates companies using the Organizational Cultural Assessment. From this starting point, she can help determine what your culture is today.

Such traits as whether your organization is entrepreneurial, innovating or more nurturing through leadership mentoring its employees are key starting points. You need to understand whether it is teamwork you value or are things more free and unique. Simon said a glue that holds companies together is loyalty and trust. Yet it can also be a smoothly run, efficient operation.

Step 2: What should your culture be tomorrow? Consider what you want your culture to become. Should it be less controlling and more empowering? More results oriented or more collegial? Do rules “rule” or are you open for new ideas and empowered staff members?

Understanding where you are allows you to focus on where you want to go. If your culture is very top-down, you may want to move to a more open culture. Conversely an entrepreneurial culture may want or need more structure, more focus on a controlling person to balance all the ideas that come from the founder and to provide a more structured approach to the management of the employees.

Step 3: Tell a story. With your staff, tell a story about what the culture is today. Simon believes it is important to “Let them all create a visualization of how you get things done now by creating the ‘The Story of How’.”  Simon relates, “As you begin to think about this you begin to need a vision a visualization of what it could be come if in fact you could change.” She discussed one of her current clients which is “ a consolidation of foundations and they want to bring them together so that they can all do better and they think they can double or triple the amount of money they can bring in if only they work better together.” The key test is going to be a driver of trying to pull the combined organization together because “nobody is voluntarily giving up anything in order to build something that they don’t trust would actually deliver better results”. Here the combined company must tell the story of where they want to go and how they will achieve it.

Step 4: Visualize tomorrow. What will tomorrow’s culture feel like? How will you get things done? Will people be enabled to make decisions and risk making mistakes? “Frame this with stories,” Simon says.

Simon relates back to step 3 when she notes, “without that visualization the brain does not know how to organize what it is doing. The neurosciences are teaching us that we take data and turn it into a story in our brain. From there, we begin to see reality through the eyes of the lens of that story. Next, we sort of all the things going on to just conform to it.” Yet you want to change that story (or perhaps The Music in Your Eyes) so that it’s a habit, as habits drive our daily life to comfortable efficient. Simon concludes by stating “For once we have visualized tomorrow then we’ve got to figure out how is it going to feel what will we do more of or less of the task in place.”

Step 5: Create pilot experiments. Through these experiments you can get people to see how the new culture is actually going to feel when they live it. “Set up some small win situations for your folks to test it out,” Simon says. “Think of this as if it is improvisation with good rehearsal time. You are asking people to change what they value, their beliefs and their behaviors. That’s not easy and it’s full of risk.”

Simon has developed tools that allow her to bring this visualized expression to reality for testing. If things are going to be more entrepreneurial and more result oriented and less controlling, she espouses engaging in team building to not only test this but to pilot it as well. She says it is important for the ‘listeners’ in your company to have some small wins but the key is to practice these pilot efforts and not simply give up the first time something does not go according to script.

Step 6: Celebrate. People need symbols and they need to celebrate and share experiences. “You need to seriously think about which rituals you will no longer do and which new ones you will introduce,” Simon says. “Be careful, though. Things that didn’t seem important can be very sacred to people when you are taking them away.”

Here Simon makes clear that celebrations are critical to help make the new behavior a habit on the road to cultural change, every time it is done we measure it and celebrate it. If something is not done well, a coach is there to redirect them.

Simon concludes by noting, “Culture is not something you wear to work, it becomes who you are.” The process she has laid out gives you a way to think about how to effect an elemental change in your organization. Of course, there must be not only buy-in but also leadership as well from senior management but if such will is present, a company can make the change.

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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Thomas Fox

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