Organizations use strategic plans to identify their vision, mission, outcomes, success factors, milestones, resource allocation, short-term objectives and action steps. People get excited by the destination and path they’ve set for themselves but they often postpone their future by continuing the current way they do things even though to achieve the ambitious plan they need to start now.
The situation is akin to the person who has a brilliant plan for getting in shape—tomorrow. The pull of the known is strong, even though it won’t lead to fitness or the organization’s vision. Old habits die hard, especially when the changes needed are about ways of being, modes of interaction, in other words, a cultural shift not just technical skill or action.
For example, the results envisioned for one organization require greater coordination among several players. Coordination, in turn, requires advanced planning and consideration of others. Yet this change bumps up against an organizational habit of doing things at the last minute. In another case, the plan calls for more leadership development. That goal requires a confrontation with a practice of each person doing too much, doing it alone, and at deadline. Leadership development also notoriously challenges people’s need for control. In another instance, an organization’s intention to involve members ran into their style of informing members of decisions already made. Sure it was faster the old way but it didn’t create the buy-in they claimed to want.
In these and other instances, the plan is great but implementation has to start immediately, which often means changing aspects of organizational culture that don’t serve anymore. This is much harder than starting a new program or service or shifting campaign tactics. It requires an examination of and change in deeply ingrained ways of thinking and acting. The planning process indicates the change that’s needed, the plan is the document that maps out the change, but the change itself comes with action NOW, not just by those future others but by current US.
Organizational culture change is notoriously difficult. The current culture is seemingly intractable because so much of it is automatic, beyond conscious awareness. Change requires making visible unexamined assumptions and the behaviors that flow from them while also providing alternatives. It’s a safe bet that people will fall back into the behavioral and interaction grooves they’ve known so well. Discipline, diligence, constant support, modeling, and reminders can begin to create new habits and to realize the promise of the future.
- Have you or your organization put off something you committed to? Why?
- What made it difficult to change?
- What supported the change?
- What did you let go of in order to change? …A belief? A comfort with the familiar?
- How did you reinforce the new habits? What did you do when you fell back into the old ways?