Our strategy is story, and sometimes it is not enough. We have to build trust between people or else they will not buy into what we are telling them. Leaders have difficulty with this. Many make the mistake that simply by telling their people the new strategy a few times, listing facts, that they’ll get it, they’ll connect, and they will march forward. No. Especially not if they’ve been burned a few times before. People will be cautious, unmoved by new ideas, new strategies, new behaviors. Better stories may not move them at all.
Contemporary leaders tend to forget that culture trumps strategy — it always has. It isn’t strategy that moves people; it is culture. It is the ways, means and methods of behavior of the kind that we’ve always known (or not known) here. It is the historic way we go about doing things. (This is why the historic way we’ve gone about doing things becomes so powerful because the historic way we’ve gone about doing things builds our culture. It is people like us doing [or not doing] things like this.)
When leaders come in and think they can effect change immediately by simply telling people the new strategy, they’re most presumptuous. You are asking people to change their behavior. Adult behavior change is hard. You may as well ask a 44 year old who hates all types of fish to try ahi tuna poke. He will not be a taker.
Worse, people dislike change. Whether they admit it or not, they like the status quo, the way things are, even if they’re not going great for them. We enjoy complaining about the status quo and the weather, but we definitely don’t want to do anything about either. Doing something about it takes courage, and, well, we don’t have time for that kind of courage when we think courage today is posting something online. Things are fine the way they are, thank you. Now, back to that post…I have to prove to someone on the Internet that they are wrong.
Making change happen starts with empathy. You must meet people where they are right now. And where they are right now changes because people change. Like asking our 44 year old friend who hates fish to try ahi tuna for the first time, asking people to change their behavior is a big ask. And it gets worse with age as people become set in their ways. This is why you must lead with empathy. Get to know them where they are at. They are there for a reason.
One of the reasons why leaders struggle with empathy is because it requires patience and curiosity. We must figure out why people are the way they are. Why are they there? What brought them to this place? Who do they see themselves as? What do people like them do? Would they ever even see themselves doing or being X? If not, you, as the leader, have an uphill battle in this behavior change because we all make decisions based upon our identity within the group. Is this good for my group? Would my group approve of this? Is this who my group is? If it isn’t, or if their perception is that it isn’t, the uphill battle of behavior change continues.
And leaders wonder why their people aren’t following them…They never stood a chance taking on culture with their new behavior change command.
The other component of this uphill battle for behavior change is that even after people begin, it is hard to make it stick. Beginning is simply that — the beginning. Think of the gym. Going once is wildly insufficient. Going three times is better, but still not even close. If you really want to make the new gym behavior stick, you must work it into the daily behavior routine for people. The new identity becomes discipline. They must think, “I am the type of person who goes to the gym and works out.” It becomes their new identity. She will get out of couch arrest and head down to the gym because she is that type of person. She believes in her ability to leave the house and hit the gym despite what she is currently feeling. Identity trumps current emotional state — some of the time.
If you want the new app to stick, make it so that it must become a part of his daily actions.
If you want the new diet plan to stick, you must give her a new identity as the type of person who does Keto, having her identify with and relating to people who do Keto as a lifestyle.
If you want to sell people the new $4,000 MacBook Pro, you must instill within the Creative the identity that they are the type of person who creates with such a wonderful laptop. Creating a Cult of the Creatives helps, too.
If you want to sell people a $600 / night hotel room, you must make them see that these are people like us who do things like this or else they’ll stay elsewhere.
Who are they? And how do they see themselves within the group?
If strategy is a mere behavior guide, then culture is the written rules and behaviors on the tablets Moses brought down the mountain. These are prescriptions and proscriptions. Every company has them, whether they’re written down or not. Often, they are not, and you must learn the means and methods and the way of the organization or else you’ll be out of the tribe. And being out of the tribe hurts. It hurts because it used to mean certain death being excommunicated from our peers. Now, it means you’re no longer welcome here and we stop paying you, which still hurts because we all want to belong and we all want to make our living for those closest to us. Not to mention it is a severe status hit.
We all want to find our people. We all deserve to find our people — where we belong. Where we finally fit in. Where we willingly agree to do things like this.