Cultural change that sticks

Waiting to fly home from a Solution Tree PLC Institute in San Antonio last week, I picked up a Harvard Business Review magazine with an interesting article that most leaders of novice learning communities could learn a lot from.

Written by Jon R. Katzenbach, Ilona Steffen, and Caroline Kronley, Cultural Change that Sticks details the efforts of senior leaders at Aetna and Arthur Andersen who successfully moved their traditional business organizations forward towards more meaningful new realities.

The authors argue that no matter how hard you try, cultural change just WON’T come quickly to any human organization — ESPECIALLY when it is autocratically imposed and/or divorced from the company’s current reality.

Their proof, interestingly enough, comes from statistics surrounding open heart surgeries:

Studies show that only 10% of people who have had heart bypass surgery or an angioplasty make major modifications to their diets and lifestyles afterward.   We don’t alter our behavior even in the face of overwhelming evidence that we should.  Change is hard. So you need to choose your battles.”

Think about that for a minute, would you:  If people who have nearly DIED because of their behaviors aren’t willing to change, how in the HECK can we expect employees to willingly embrace new directions no matter HOW important those new directions may be?

What does that mean for the leaders of novice learning communities? 

It means that you have to work with the strengths — rather than grow frustrated by the weaknesses — of your school’s existing culture.  Find behaviors that ALREADY neatly align with the work that you hope that your learning community will eventually embrace and concentrate on seeing those behaviors spread across your entire organization.

As Katzenbach and company explain:

You can’t trade your company’s culture in as if it were a used car. For all its benefits and blemishes, it’s a legacy that remains uniquely yours. Unfortunately, it can feel like a millstone when a company is trying to push through a significant change—a merger, for instance, or a turnaround. Cultural inclinations are well entrenched, for good or bad. But it’s possible to draw on the positive aspects of culture, turning them to your advantage, and offset some of the negative aspects as you go. This approach makes change far easier to implement.”

So look at the core practices of a learning community and begin to find places in your building where those practices are already thriving. 

Do you have a team that is already providing additional time for learners?  Is there a strong mentoring program in your building designed to support struggling students?  Are their individual faculty members who are skilled at creating tiered activities that meet the unique needs of every learner?

Making that work public to others and encouraging those efforts to spread is more likely to lead to short term successes that can be celebrated simply because they’ve already been embraced by your building — and short term successes are vital momentum builders for anyone who wants to create cultural changes that stick.

Any of this make sense?

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Related Radical Reads:

What Can the Principals of PLCs Learn from Hand Washing?

Make Like and Obstetrician and Deliver

What CAN the Principals of PLCs Learn from Antarctic Disasters?

Hitting Home Runs 50 Feet at a Time

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