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When Culture is All Talk

Posted by David Couper on October 02, 2018 10:58 AM
When Culture is All Talk

I once participated in a retreat full of leaders of a major healthcare organization.  The CEO was talking about how excited he was to look at the future healthcare culture; how things were going to be on the rise from now on and how he was committed to growth.

Interestingly, this same CEO had worked with three of our top coaches and had quit all of them prior to this retreat.  One, he was just done with. Another, he didn’t feel connected to. And the third just stopped showing up for his meetings.  It seemed as if he was committed to other people’s growth, but not his own.

You can’t change culture by talking about it and you can’t change culture without changing your people.  And most important, without changing yourself.

 

When I was talking with another leader, he mentioned that his team was still working on their strategic plan.  It seemed like he was concerned about their progress. Ever ready to be of service and sensing an opportunity for some additional consulting, I asked him if he needed help.

“No, it's good,” he responded.  “They are taking time because they are talking with each other.  They are challenging each other.”

This was a change in culture.  Three years prior, the leader’s management team liked each other, liked to be nice, and liked to avoid conflict.  That’s a great culture if you want to keep things as they are, avoid growth and be safe without risk.

For a healthcare organization facing all the changes and stresses of the Affordable Care Act, industry interruptions from CVS and Amazon, and the problems of government and regulation, a non-growth model doesn’t work.  My client, the leader, knew that. He knew they would face severe culture shock when ObamaCare hit. He was right in so many ways.

He was also clear about how he wanted the culture to look when we first started working with him.  “I wanted my leaders to be ready for the changes that are going to happen.”

That translated to leaders who could be flexible, who could be creative and who would stop being “nice” and start being authentic and hold people accountable.

We worked with the leaders, their reports, and their attitudes.   As the program gained success, the front line staff represented by various different unions wanted to be in on the training as well. That itself was a testament to the change in culture.

 

It all starts with a change in ourselves.  Culture shock is when we move or experience a culture that is different from our own or what we are used to.  Being human, we don’t like that change. But what we don’t often realize is that we can choose how we react to that culture shock.

Because what we believe is often limiting or unfulfilling, we can’t see what’s possible.  So, we shut down or try and fight the change instead of fighting to make the change a success.

This change had started with our client, the leader of the organization.  He had taken his limiting beliefs, especially those about feedback, delegating and being authentic, and worked out when they were not helping him deal with culture shock.

He began to listen more, giving both positive and negative feedback for growth.  He modeled what a transformational leader should look like.

He delegated responsibilities and showed his team that he cared for and relied on their opinions and decisions.  

And he began to share his learning with his team and others he met.

He opened himself up and so opened up the culture. Yes, his team had culture shock.  He shared that they had never experienced so much work and had never been so busy, but they kept going getting better and better results on productivity, quality, and patient satisfaction.

The culture went from nice to real with real results.

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