Preparing the Soil to Grow Your Culture

By Jake Friedman, Consultant

My first job out of college was as a science teacher in a local high school. One August morning prior to the start of the school year, I found myself in a department-wide meeting, called by the district. The school district was changing the required structure and delivery of science lessons, and a representative from the district office outlined the new requirements, reading out what teachers must do, must not do, and how they would be monitored for alignment.

The district rep seemed to think he was doing a good job of explaining it all, but in reality it was a terrible presentation with no attempt to create buy-in or engage the teachers. People were insulted, outraged, and frustrated with the change, and the meeting quickly devolved into a battle between the teachers and the district with the outcome pre-determined: ultimately the district would prevail, and the teachers would implement the new system half-heartedly and angrily. And the end results would be just as predictable: the new format would be less successful than the district hoped, because the teachers would be complying grudgingly.

Unfortunately, this situation isn’t all that different from what happens when many organizations, whether in the public or private sector, introduce a new process or initiative. No matter how well-crafted or how well intentioned, if the initiative isn’t introduced effectively, its chances of success drop dramatically. The same is true for your culture plan.

An effective introduction “prepares the soil”

As regular blog readers know, we teach that in order to drive a high performing culture, there are three actions that you need to take. First, you have to define, with great clarity, the behaviors that drive success in your organization. We call those behaviors “Fundamentals.” Second, you have to engage your people and introduce them to those behaviors. We call that the “Rollout.” Finally, you have to implement a systematic, structured way of using rituals to teach and practice those behaviors over and over and over again.

What I’ve noticed is that leaders and CEOs quickly grasp the importance of the first and third actions, but sometimes don’t assign the same priority to action #2. An analogy we often use to drive the point home is that the rollout is like preparing the soil. If we prepare the soil properly, everything we plant has a better chance to grow.  If we simply throw seeds on hard ground, we’re not likely to see much sprout.

The structure of a Rollout

Having done this hundreds of times with organizations of all shapes and sizes across virtually every industry, we’ve fine-tuned our rollouts down to a science. The ideal length of a rollout meeting is 3-hours. Go longer and you’ll lose engagement. Cut it short and you’ll sacrifice quality. The optimal number of employees per session is less than 50, ensuring that everyone can participate without it becoming unwieldy.

We divide the rollout into two exercises, bookended with an introduction and conclusion. One exercise focuses on understanding what each Fundamental means, the other on demonstrating how people will actually use them on a daily basis.

Tips for an effective Rollout

So what are some tips for your rollout and what are some mistakes to avoid? First, let’s start with what not to do. It should go without saying that skipping the rollout entirely is a bad idea! Dumping Fundamentals on your people with no context or explanation is a recipe for failure.  

It’s also less effective to do what the district rep from my teaching days did and simply tell people “how it’s going to be from now on.” A much better way is to create a highly interactive and engaging meeting, that builds interest and excitement. You want to facilitate a discussion with people, not talk at them.

Finally, it’s important to win over both hearts and minds. What I mean by this is that it’s essential to demonstrate the logic behind the plan and explain in detail exactly how the initiative is going to play out. When people have clarity and get the logic, you’ll have their minds.

But it’s just as important to show them why culture matters and how working on your culture is going to be of great benefit to them personally. When people grasp the intent behind the initiative, and the rewards of executing it successfully, you’ll have their hearts.

Taken together, a highly interactive, engaging rollout gets people aligned, excited, and prepared to begin practicing the Fundamentals, ensuring that your organization is set up for success.

If you’d like to learn more about how to effectively introduce your culture plan, just give us a call, click the button below, or consider joining us at Summit 2020.

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