Mark Oehlert – You have to first understand someone’s culture

I love this one, because anytime I’m teaching this or talking about it and I ask people to put their hands up of “who believes that people resist change?” And everybody raises their hand immediately. And so then I start taking off, this is on an individual level. But I start asking: “how many people have voluntarily gotten married or had kids or voluntarily changed jobs or even moved?” And everybody keeps raising their hands. Here’s another example. If you were walking down the street and you saw the winning lottery ticket from the latest lottery laying there in the middle of the street, no one else around, no way to find out who it came from. But you know that this is a 20 million euros lottery ticket. That’s a huge change in your life. Are you going to resist picking up that lottery ticket and turning it in? And I think the answer is no. So, I don’t think that people resist change. I think that people will resist change when it hasn’t been sufficiently explained to them. Now, that’s on an individual level.

On a corporate level, it’s a little bit different. But I think more similar than different in that an organization should change. It’s entirely possible and when if the change is explained to them in a way that makes sense to their particular culture. So I talked differently to instructional designers than I do, to say, if you’re working in knowledge management, than I do to people sitting at the chief executive officer level. Not because… Primarily because they’re operating in different cultures. The CEO and the CFO have different cultural responsibilities than people in different parts of the organizations. And so, I think, when you’re talking about getting people to embrace change, you have to first understand the culture that they’re going to have to try to do that in; and understanding the kind of pain points in that culture for them, and coaching that explanation of how the change is going to help them in a way that makes sense within that culture.

So if I’m talking to a CEO, I might talk about increasing collaboration as the way to gain competitive advantage over somebody. But if I’m talking to a divisional manager, he doesn’t really care about competitive advantage. He’s got a different culture around. And it says, “I have to maximize my employees’ productivity within this division”. And so I’m going to explain the change differently to them. So I think, the first thing is we can’t settle on a ‘one size fits all’ explanation of why collaboration is going to be beneficial. We have to adjust our explanations not by being, what, faults or disingenuous. But we have to just change the terms of the discussion to ones that make sense within someone’s culture. That makes any sense.

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