'Consistency is the key to Culture Change'
This heading seems to be a contradiction in terms. Isn’t change all about doing things differently, being adaptable? Where does consistency come in?
I was facilitating a group recently and we were talking about the importance of trust, both in building them as a team and in creating the culture they wanted in the workforce. Through extensive discussion they agreed that being consistent and ‘making the time’ were, for them, key pillars of trust.
In that session it struck me yet again how much of a foundation to cultural change consistency was. In fact, how much of a foundation consistency was for any sort of change.
What is consistency? Consistency is a certain repeatability of behaviour so that people can predict how you will respond in any given situation and also know with clarity how they are expected to operate. If culture is largely shaped by people’s expectations around how to behave, then consistent leadership behaviour is vital.
So how does it work?
I remember walking through a workshop with a leader who was lamenting the fact that, despite holding regular safety meetings, doing safety audits and the like, they weren’t getting the changes that they needed.
As we were talking I noticed that we had walked past someone not wearing their safety gloves, but the leader said nothing. At that point I was confused and asked him why he had kept quiet. His response was very telling; “Why worry about the little things when we can’t even get the big things right!” What this leader had missed was a significant moment of truth. In that moment in time his actions (speaking up when someone was doing something unsafe) were disconnected from his words and from his target culture.
The reality is that our culture is merely an amalgamation of a whole lot of little moments. Occasionally a big event comes along that dramatically shifts how people operate for a short period of time, but this doesn’t sustain. It is focussing on the little things every day that matters.
Was this leader wrong? In my experience most leaders under appreciate the importance of the little things and the importance of being consistent every time.
Consistency is key to cultural change.
The complexity for leaders is this – every decision, every interaction with someone, is a moment of truth. When I coach leaders and work with leadership teams about how to shift their culture, what often overwhelms them is that culture is not just a HR project; it is everything that they do every day. Every budget decision. Every performance discussion that they choose to have or not have. Every behaviour they choose to ignore. Every time they do or don’t walk their own talk.
In summary, one of the key phrases I use again and again with the leaders I work with is this – as a leader, you get what you do and you get what you tolerate.