Mind the Gap

Written by Paul Major on

Most leaders want to build a culture that gives their organisation a competitive edge, makes it easier to hire and retain the best talent, and creates success. Too often though, their efforts fall into the gap between aspiration and execution.

Even if you are an enlightened leader, embodying your values in everything you say and do, is your example mirrored throughout your organisation? Do all of your layers of management talk, and more importantly, act the way you do? Are your metrics and rewards inadvertently reinforcing the wrong behaviours? Is your organisation saying one thing but actually doing the opposite?

This is the “saying – doing gap” and finding ways of bridging it is critical to cultural shift.

Your employees will take their cues on how to act from their everyday experience, not from well-meant words they hear at annual meetings or read on motivational posters. They pay more attention to what you do than what you say. However much you claim to be an innovative organisation, if you shout at your people whenever they take a risk or make a mistake, don’t be surprised if you get a buttoned-down, risk-averse culture that does everything by the book.

Mind The Gap

Change is difficult because people are complex. You can’t force someone into accepting change, they have to buy into it for themselves – and to do that, they need to understand why it will make their lives better. This is nothing new. Back in 1513, Machiavelli wrote, “There is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old system and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new one.”

So how do you successfully lead cultural shift and bridge this gap? Whilst not the complete story, these three steps are essential.

  1. Believe in what you are saying – REALLY BELIEVE! The culture you want to create must be congruent with your own core beliefs and values. Be clear about what it will look and feel like and why you want to change. If there is a gap between what you believe and your desired culture, be sure you can make the necessary changes in yourself before you try changing your organisation.
  2. Generate Trust. Abide by the standards you set, obey the rules you make and follow the processes you design. Model the behaviours you want in your new organisation and make sure your leadership team and their reports do too! If they don’t, call them out. Tell everyone to call you out too – accountability works both ways.
  3. Create Dialogue. Understand that dialogue is different to communication, which is all too often a one-way flow. A dialogue exchanges ideas, shares concerns and creates mutual understanding and purpose. People embrace change more readily when they understand why it is happening and actively want to do things differently. Ensure there is real dialogue on the issues at hand at every level of your organisation.

Widely considered the greatest basketball coach of all time, John Wooden’s thoughts on leadership and culture have gained as much traction in the business world as in the sports arena. My favourite of his quotes is, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no-one is watching.” What is true of people (men and women) is equally true of organisations. Is there a gap between what you say your organisation believes and the way it acts towards its employees, suppliers and partners?

Is it time you took steps to close the gap?

Here at changemaker, we support organisations and individuals in delivering sustainable and lasting change. When creating cultural shift, we work with the human being, helping leaders and teams understand why and how they can change to address the challenges ahead and realise success. If you want to learn more about us, take a look at our website www.changemaker.org.uk or email us at info@changemaker.org.uk.