When I travel to a different country, the cultures I spend time in are different to the one I grew up in or the one I live in now. Almost immediately after getting off the plane, I notice myself in ‘high-observation’ mode, watching others for signals about how things work in the new culture I find myself in. The obvious signals are clothes, food and language, the subtle ones can be the shopkeeper returning my credit card with two hands, the person holding their elbow while greeting me with a handshake, who speaks in meetings, etc.
Cultures – ethnic and organisational – are full of signals. Signal telling newbies how to behave and reinforcing behaviour to those who are no longer newbies. In the words of Seth – “people like us, do things like this”.
To enact, encourage change within a culture we first need to understand it, observe it and also be clear about what change we want to see. Change is often approach from a rational perspective, but humans are rarely rational; we are emotional beings so we need to pay attention to the emotions in it. In Seth’s latest book, he goes on to expand on the work of Theodore Levitt who said “People don’t want to buy a quarter inch drill bit, they want a quarter inch hole”. Seth takes this further to saying they don’t want a quarter inch hole, they want is to put up a shelf using the hole to hold the bracket, but even further, they want the feeling of the room being uncluttered because the clutter on the shelf, but even further the satisfaction of having done it themselves and even further the status when someone else admires their work. In the end, “People don’t want to buy a quarter inch drill bit, they want to be safe and respected.”
Take that into organisational change, people want to be safe and respected. People want to be ‘seen’. Being seen is often connected with interaction – now think about the meetings you attend, run. How much interaction is there? As Lecioni says in his book, Death by Meeting, most of us woud rather go to a movie than a meeting, which is weird given that you have no ability to interact with or change the outcome of a movie, but you do in a meeting. What signals are we sending about our team, our organisation, in how run meetings. What if we’d begin to change them – People like us, do things like this..