Change the Culture, Change the Game
By Roger Connors and Tom Smith
Executive Book Summary at www.summary.com
In Change the Culture, Change the Game, Roger Connors and Tom Smith, the recognized experts on creating a culture of enterprise-wide accountability, apply their practical and powerful strategy to helping leaders accelerate culture change, energize their organizations and create greater accountability for results.
In this landmark guide to organizational culture change, the authors introduce the Results Pyramid model, a simple and memorable methodology for efficiently and effectively changing the way people think and act throughout an organization to ensure that they achieve their desired results.
In this review, I intend to summarize and explain the method of culture change recommended by Tom Smith and Roger Connors, authors of Change the Culture, Change the Game. I support its thesis strongly and have composed a rather lengthy analysis of the book’s messages. I apply my own experiences throughout in order to supplement the argument. Beware but enjoy.
Lastly, I am a novice when it comes to citing from books. As of this writing, I don’t have citations, but do intend to do that. There is a heavy mix of direct quotes from the book and my own language. I will be working gradually to sorting that out.
A company must manage their culture or the culture will manage them. That firm statement serves as the core message of this book. It is culture that creates results. Everything else is a product of that culture. Culture changes the way people think which changes the way they act. To help support this precept, there are four premises that build the case for the importance of corporate culture. They are:
- Beliefs create Actions.
- Actions do not create Beliefs.
- Experience creates Beliefs.
- Culture produces Results.
The authors use a helpful formula to illustrate the before and after of a company’s change effort. In its simplest form, it looks like this:
A1 + B1 + C1 = R1
A2 + B2 + C2 = R2
| A = Actions | B = Beliefs | C = Culture | R = Results |
These (non-mathematical) formulas tell us that a group’s actions, beliefs, and culture create the results they get. In the first formula, whether good or bad, this is how the organization has been performing up to the time of assessment. It could have been very good performance or completely poor performance. It doesn’t matter. That particular set of characteristics achieved those particular results.
The second formula tells us that in order to achieve new and improved results, R2, new and different actions, beliefs, and culture need to be created in order to make it happen. You cannot do “more of the same”. You will only achieve R1 again, maybe R1.5, but never R2. In other words, the results you want determine the kind of culture you need. The culture creates results.
The book provides some other helpful premises to define how these forces work. For lack of a better way to do it, I will list a few more of these premises:
- Culture consists of both what people think and what they do.
- Change the way people think, you will change the way they act.
- Don’t create a culture of activity. Changing the way people think is the fastest way to changing the way people act.
- Too often, leaders attempt to change the way people act without changing the way they think, i.e., their beliefs. As a result, they get compliance, but not commitment; involvement, but not investment; progress, but not lasting performance.
The last bullet above is a very important point. Too often, companies create policies and procedures and enforce them to get results. While they may operate with discipline and efficiency, they will expend too many resources on forcing compliance and creating a punitive environment. Equally, it may even be the case that formal enforcement does not occur. In this vacuum, customers or key stakeholders need to escalate issues in order to get action. From both the book and my own experience, these approaches are tragically insufficient.
The Chicken or the Egg
I experience a debate frequently that asks the question: “Which is better, create the culture first, and the culture will drive your results; or, build effective policies and procedures first and a good culture will emerge from following good habits?” This debate rages in the same way in the psychotherapy community between cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. I prefer building the culture first, as it is more proactive and purposeful.
Change the Culture, Change the Game answers the question in its title. Changing the culture is essential to driving better results. In psychological terms, it is best to know who you are and how you achieve meaning in life in order to live a full life. In the same way, a company needs to know what beliefs, vision, and mission it has in order to deliver the right results.
The book uses a model to explain the difference between the two competing methods. They identify the culture’s state of accountability in two different ways; Above the Line, and Below the Line.
Below the line, people behave in unconstructive ways because they have no direction, see no reward for proactive measures, or even know how to behave at all. This environment frustrates inspiration and action. As examples, these behaviors inevitably emerge:
- Cover your tail (CYA)
- Wait and see
- Tell me what to do
- Finger pointing
- Ignore or deny problems
- Say, “It’s not my job.”
I don’t see how instituting new policies and procedures will inspire people in this state of mind to perform better. The work to create the habit will usually need to be firm and punitive in order to enforce compliance. This is a drain on the organization.
In the figure below, the authors illustrate the natural depth for how results are achieved. At the most superficial level, results are achieved through actions. If executed in isolation, the only way for actions to produce desired results is to enforce those actions. There is no other motivation available to make it happen except individual altruism. Altruism cannot serve as a permanent motivator. Consequently, desired actions can only be policed and enforced. As the figure shows, you can only gain compliance in such an environment. Nobody knows why something needs to be done, they are just required to do it. You cannot sustain morale or buy-in at this shallow level of motivation.
The book provides a valuable statement on the damage this type of environment engenders:
When individuals, teams, or entire organizations remain Below The Line, unaware or unconscious of reality, things get worse, not better, without anyone knowing why. Rather than face reality, sufferers of this malady oftentimes begin ignoring or pretending not to know about their accountability, denying their responsibility, blaming others for their predicament, citing confusion as a reason for inaction, asking others to tell them what to do, claiming that they can’t do it, or just waiting to see if the situation will miraculously resolve itself.
In order to gain longer-term results, you need to speak to people on a deeper level. As the figure shows, if the employees believe in what they are doing, they will be willing to do the work necessary without supervision. If they see that others are acting this way, that the message from the top is consistent and genuine, i.e., their experiences in the company uphold their beliefs, then they will commit to the cause, invest themselves in it, and dedicate their actions long-term. When this depth is robust, then there is a real culture to participate in. People are willing to expend their energy in such a place. They are willing to say, “What else can I do?”
The book then explains what it means to be “above the line” due to a positive, constructive culture. They are a bit platitudinous, but still useful. They are:
- See It
- Own It
- Solve It
- Do It
As this is an unabridged book review, I’d like to include the descriptions of each of these from the book. They capture the spirit and intent required to motivate an organization, so here goes:
Acknowledging reality and seeing things as they really are allows you to escape the feelings of powerlessness that accompany Below The Line behavior and rise above those circumstances by addressing what you can do to overcome challenges and obstacles. That usually requires getting feedback from others. You can gain great insight from frequent, regular and ongoing feedback from other people.
Accountable people constantly seek feedback from a wide range of associates, whether it is team members, cross-functional partners or even outside vendors or suppliers. Remember, other people’s perceptions of reality, whether you agree with them or not, always add important nuances to your own perception. The more perspectives you obtain, the more easily you can recognize when you’re stuck Below The Line, move Above The Line and then encourage others to do likewise.
Owning your circumstances depends on seeing where you may be languishing Below The Line. When we Own It, we make the tie between where we are at in terms of results, what we have done and where we want to be with what we are going to do. It is often said, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” However, when it comes to owning it, we say: “If you are not part of the problem, then you are not part of the solution.” Taking personal accountability for your problems empowers you to take that same level of accountability for solving those problems.
People who own their circumstances never allow the actions of someone or something else to keep them stuck Below The Line. Instead, accountable people accept whatever ways in which their own behavior contributed to the situation and set about overcoming those circumstances, no matter how difficult. The benefits of owning your circumstances more than compensate for the sometimes heart-wrenching effort involved. When you find the heart to own your circumstances, you automatically gain the commitment to overcome and change those circumstances for the better.
Simply acknowledging reality and accepting your role in creating your circumstances will achieve little if you fail to tackle real problems and remove true obstacles on your road to results. To do so, you must exercise wisdom. Getting to the Solve It step quickly can often make all the difference in the world. Solving It can begin even before you fully take the step. The wisdom to Solve It includes anticipating what could occur and preparing for the worst. When it does come, moving quickly to the Solve It step can make a huge difference.
The Solve It attitude and behavior stem from continually asking the question, “What else can I do?” By constantly and rigorously asking this question, you avoid slipping back into the victim cycle whenever certain events occur that would otherwise seem to block the road to results. Since solutions to thorny problems often do not readily reveal themselves, you must diligently search for them, but beware of wasting time Below The Line because that will only dull your senses and discourage your imagination from discovering solutions.
Ultimately, personal accountability means accepting full responsibility to achieve results and Do It. If you don’t Do It, you’ll never reap the most valuable benefit of full accountability: Overcoming the obstacles and achieving the results you want. Despite the many benefits that accrue from applying the other three steps, results only come when you put all four steps together and passionately, proactively and persistently Do It!
The Do It step bestows the full power of accountability that will help you get the individual and organizational results you need. This form of accountability comes after you have progressed through all four steps Above The Line. When you Do It, you stay Above The Line and prevent further ineffective sojourns Below The Line. Do It means that you will follow-through with the plan, implement the strategies and execute the ideas. By stopping at any step short of Do It, you will never fully achieve a permanent position Above The Line. Any effort that falls short of making it happen and getting it done simply indicates a lack of full acceptance of accountability.
The book focuses more deeply on beliefs and actions to show how they need to shift to meet new results. These target how individuals think and act, so it is a very people-oriented approach to change. Many other methods focus on the organization as a whole which overlooks the need to build motivation and commitment at the individual level.
With that, the book gives managers a way to assess the state of their peoples’ beliefs. The authors teach us that using beliefs is a far more efficient effort. One belief creates multiple actions. Clearing up one bad belief can change many actions. Based on this, managers can ask these questions to help them:
- Are the B1 beliefs that people share the ones you want them to hold?
- Do these beliefs inspire movement toward C2 or do they cause people to retrench into C1?
- B2 accelerates change. What is the call to action? What results do you need?
- What beliefs will prevent us and what will propel us forward?
- Deconstruct C1 to know what you need to shift.
The authors put a clear stake in the ground when they say: “People in organizations hold two kinds of beliefs, those that will help them achieve R2 and those that won’t.” Beliefs have negative or positive consequences and leaders need to harness the most constructive and fruitful of those to achieve deeper, longer lasting behaviors.
As noted in the formula at the beginning of the review, to reach new results, the organization needs to change its actions. A1 depicts the current actions, procedures, processes, and activities that the organization performs to get R1. A2 depicts the new actions it should start or the old actions it can continue that are necessary to get the new results, R2.
Many organizations don’t stop and think about what their obstacles are and simply commit to work harder or faster. They may create the right strategic objectives, but don’t tend to the details that enable them to be accomplished. To achieve A2, difficult decisions need to be made to change the way people work. Some of these may be sacred cows, some may require a reallocation of people that can cause great discomfort, and some may require acquiring new people and new skills in order to perform the actions necessary. Even worse to some, detailed processes need to be analyzed, improved, and documented.
It seems obvious, though, doesn’t it? Management teams do strategic planning every year and commit to a new strategy, possibly reorganize, and choose new strategic objectives. However, they still have the same procedure that requires five signatures or a culture that doesn’t follow through on action items or come late to meetings. They may still avoid changing the negative behavior of a critical person to the strategy. They may also still retain the fire-fighting culture that plagues so many work environments.
The authors prescribe one very interesting mechanism to scrutinize current actions and determine how to change. They should perform an “Actions Exercise”. Here, the organization identifies R2, and asks three questions. They are:
- Which actions already present in our organization must stop?
- Which new actions should we start?
- Which existing actions should we continue?
This exercise forces people to identify tangible examples of what to do. They create a clear link to the results they want to achieve. This gives employees a clear blueprint on what they need to do to contribute to R2. It is common for companies to send out the strategic objectives and expect that people will instinctively move in that direction. This method, however, is too optimistic. Giving people concrete examples of how to achieve the objectives is crucial to being able to do it.
How to Make it Happen
The best part of the book is the depth the authors go to in order to explain how to change the culture. Many books spend the bulk of the time diagnosing the problems, but don’t describe in explicit detail the actions that need to be taken to deliver their proposition. Change the Culture, Change the Game succeeds in telling us how to achieve the results they promise. Accordingly, the authors lay down some important principles. Here is a summary:
To achieve R2 results, you must create the new C2 culture that will produce the new results. You do this by defining the needed shifts in the way people think (the new B2 beliefs) and act (the new A2 actions) which will then provide the new experiences (E2) that will help them adopt those desired beliefs and actions.
They then offer some useful conditions and action steps to go with it:
In order to get new results, you need a new culture. C1 is not necessarily a bad culture, it just cannot achieve R2. It must be clear to everyone what the three top key results are for the organization they work for. Additionally, management must make a convincing case for change in order to paint a clear picture of what the new world will look like so that a critical mass of people, energy, and enthusiasm can be created to move the organization toward the goal.
- Step 1: Deconstruct C1 – the old behaviors and beliefs won’t get us new results
- Step 2: Reconstruct C2 – the new culture opens us to new ways to perform
- Step 3: Sustain C2 – keep the energy and commitment alive
And most importantly, they offer a detailed list of the steps to take to deliver the change needed for the organization.
- Identify R1
- Identify results that are typical, not good enough, , current state, or problematic.
- Develop R2 and the Case for Change
- Pick the top three R2 results you need to achieve, matching them against the R1 equivalents.
- Make a compelling Case for Change, why we need to do it and why we need to do it now.
- Paint a clear picture of R2 and what achieving that will do for all involved.
- Identify A1
- Identify actions that lead or cause you to reach R1. Name typical, problematic, or currently acceptable behavior that will prevent you from reaching new results. These are actions people should stop doing.
- List the A1 actions that get in the way of achieving R2. What do you need to start doing in order to achieve the R2 you listed?
- Determine what key A1 actions you want people to continue doing. These are the strengths of C1 that will continue to help you achieve R2. They provide the foundation upon which you will build C2.
- Develop A2
- Identify actions that you think you need to reach the new results. Name actions that you don’t have that you need to get.
- Think of the A2 actions people don’t take but should.
- Identify B1
- What beliefs help us achieve R1?
- Answer the question, “How do things really work around here?”
- Answer the question, “Will these beliefs enable you to deliver R2?”
- Conduct Belief Exercise
- List the needed result à List the current belief à List the desired belief
- Do individual and collective soul-searching to do the belief exercise
- Are the B1 beliefs that people are sharing the ones you want them to hold?
- Conduct C1 Analysis
- List the current beliefs à Identify current actions that result from it
- Conduct C2 Analysis
- List the desired belief à Identify desired actions that result from it
- Identify Your Beliefs Shift
- List the current beliefs you need to discard to achieve R2
- List the desired beliefs you need to create to achieve R2
- Create the cultural beliefs statement
- List the fundamental beliefs you want the group to hold to achieve R2
- Declare a call to action with the new beliefs in order to accelerate change
- Develop Experiences that reinforce new beliefs
- Plan It
- What B2 belief do I need to reinforce?
- Who is my intended audience for the experience? Whom will they talk to about it?
- What specific experience will I provide?
- How will I provide the experience so that it reinforces the B2 belief?
- When is the best time to do this?
- Who can give me input on my plan?
- Provide It
- Provide the experience sincerely
- Ask about It
- See if it impacted B1 beliefs
- Get honest, straightforward feedback
- Interpret It
- Tell them the B2 belief you want them to have
- Explain how the experience was intended to foster that belief
- Clarify any confusion or answer questions people may raise.
- Tell; explain; clarify
- Plan It
The last piece of the puzzle is the use of experiences to reinforce the beliefs and actions needed to achieve the new results. This concept is complicated but can be extremely useful if done effectively. In short, leaders must create a working environment where the beliefs and actions required to reach the results are obvious, consistent, and practiced by the leaders themselves. Each interaction people have with others in the organization creates an experience that either fosters or undermines desired beliefs. Leaders must become highly proficient at creating the right experiences in order to create the needed beliefs. Experiences create beliefs that drive actions that, in turn, produce results.
For example, if an organization needs to improve discipline and accountability, employees need to see that new rules are applied and followed. If managers fail to show up at meetings or fail to follow through on commitments, their people will lose heart and realize that the new culture is not changing. By default, they will go back to their previous beliefs and actions. However, if managers improve their reliability, make constructive decisions, and expect people to finish things, then employees will begin to see the fruits of the new culture emerging. They will follow it if there is enough credibility and payoff to change.
With positive experiences, people can now commit to the new direction and change their behaviors. People will do what you ask them to do. Right or wrong. All behavior is rewarded. If managers take accountability for the culture, then better results will follow. This is the tipping point that gives an exciting momentum and energy needed to improve results.
In order to achieve new and better results, leaders must create alignment between the people and the desired beliefs, actions, and culture. Alignment, in the book’s context, means to create common beliefs and concerted action in collective pursuit of a clear result. The speed of the culture change will correspond directly to the level of alignment you create and maintain around R2 and the Cultural Beliefs.
Of course, the book identifies several steps for how to achieve alignment. I’ll try to summarize it as succinctly as I can, but the steps are very thorough. Here are the steps:
To get alignment, you need to have the right people directly involved to assess the current state of the culture (C1) and to then define the new results (R2). There are a number of other steps that need to be defined that I have not covered for lack of time and space. Here they are in list form:
- Who should help create the Case for Change?
- Who should help write the Cultural Beliefs Statement?
- Who should design the way we will implement the Cultural Transition Process?
- Who should communicate about the culture change with the entire organization and how should they do it?
- Who should receive additional coaching as a leader of the change process?
As accountability is crucial to the success of cementing a new culture, the person who makes the decisions must be identified. Though intense team participation is still needed, the authors recommend that the system works best with leader-led decision making and communication. The leader has the final word for the number of Cultural Beliefs and the final wording rests with the organizational leader.
In a very large change at one of my organizations, we made sure that our Director acted as the primary mouthpiece of the program. Every week, she sent out an e-mail to the organization that stated clearly what the important beliefs and actions that were necessary to make the changes succeed. To too my own horn, I wrote those words and they were sent out by the Director nearly verbatim. Very subtly, these beliefs and actions started to take root. It still took much effort on my part to reinforce this to managers who resisted the changes. I attended management staff meetings and held 1:1’s with some in order to make a personal impression on them. Some of these managers carried a lot of baggage for the old ways and made excuses. However, as people began to see the merit of the changes, the culture took over and assimilated the managers.
The foundation of this principle is to enable people to speak their minds without risk of backlash. Employees need to be heard and to feel that they are making a contribution. They are closest to the work and know how improvements can be made. Leaders need to make sure this information, feedback, and opinions are debated. It is still too frequent that organizations become locked down and people get punished for telling the truth or giving bad news. Leaders need to acknowledge that they don’t know everything, don’t know everything that is actually going on, and don’t know better ways to handle work at the transactional level. Employees need to feel comfortable raising issues and teaching leaders what needs to be done.
Once decisions are made on beliefs and actions, each leader needs to take ownership of the direction as their own. Leaders and teams must promote the decision because it is the correct course of action for the organization at this time. Don’t look back, don’t regret, don’t say, “well, the boss said we had to do it,” don’t sabotage if you don’t agree. This is a team effort and the team needs to act towards the chosen direction.
Once decisions are made, consistent, persistent communication must promote the message. People will respond constructively to leaders who mean it. Leaders must continually reinforce the right beliefs, actions, and results. Managers need to speak to these in the same way. People, by nature, are experts at noticing loopholes or weaknesses. If one or more managers are straying from the message, credibility is lost. Leaders need to work together to align how they should communicate and when they should do it in order to rally the troops and build momentum.
If there already is cynicism within the organization, change killing attitudes may quickly emerge. There usually is a long and checkered history that led to the need for change in the first place. It is up to leaders to communicate what is different this time.
Once a culture change begins to build, leaders need to put mechanisms in place to check in and test for alignment. The authors encourage management teams to schedule regular checkpoints on the calendar and conduct the research to learn how people are doing in the new world. Alignment is a process, not an event.
The management team need to choose a way to assess the level of alignment. It could be a survey, it could be a monitoring of key performance indicators, or it could be a review of carefully derived, qualitative questions.
During a cultural transition, nothing more powerfully affects a successful outcome than a management team fully aligned around R2, the case for change, the Cultural Beliefs, and the C2 culture, and the methodology for changing culture. That alignment alone is one of the most important accelerators of the change process. p. 132