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Culture is like the wind. It is invisible. Yet, the effect is far reaching and impactful. It can move mountains given time! When it is blowing in your direction, it makes for smooth sailing. When it is blowing against you, everything is more difficult.

When one is trying to be adaptive and innovative, they need a change in culture. It is the most challenging part of even a simple transformation. Innovation demands new behaviors from leaders and employees that donot go hang in hand with established cultures. They focus only on operational excellence and efficiency.

Generally, a change in culture cannot be a top-down mandate. There should be a change in heart of people. Their shared perception should change. Management can demand compliance, but they can’t dictate optimism, trust, conviction, or creativity.


Change is a movement!

We often think of movements as starting with a call to action. But movement research suggests that they actually start with emotion. There is always a mild dissatisfaction with the status quo. Generally, the current structure of institutions fail to address the problem. The slowly simmering discontent turns into a movement when a single voice rises above the rest! It provides a positive motivation and a boost forward that’s within the power of the crowd.

Social movements typically start small. They begin with a group of passionate enthusiasts who deliver a few modest wins. While these wins are small, they’re powerful in demonstrating efficacy to nonparticipants, and they help the movement gain steam. The movement really gathers force and scale once this group successfully co-opts existing networks and influencers. Eventually, in successful movements, leaders leverage their momentum and influence to institutionalize the change in the formal power structures and rules of society.

Practices for Leading a Cultural Movement

Leaders should not be too quick or simplistic in their translation of social movement dynamics into change management plans. That said, leaders can learn a lot from the practices of skillful movement makers.

Frame the issue.

Successful leaders of movements are often masters of framing situations in terms that stir emotion and incite action. Framing can also apply social pressure to conform.

Simply explaining the need for change won’t cut it. A sense of urgency is helpful, but can be short-lived. To harness people’s full, lasting commitment, they must feel a deep desire, and even responsibility, to change. A leader can do this by framing change within the organization’s purpose — the “why we exist” question.

Narendra Modi is an excellent example of bringing about a change in the ever passive Indian population to get interested in political matters.

A good organizational purpose calls for the pursuit of greatness in service of others. It asks employees to be driven by more than personal gain. It gives meaning to work, conjures individual emotion, and incites collective action.

Demonstrate quick wins.

Movement makers are very good at recognizing the power of celebrating small wins. Research has shown that demonstrating efficacy is one way that movements bring in people who are sympathetic but not yet mobilized to join.

When it comes to organizational culture change, leaders too often fall into the trap of declaring the culture shifts they hope to see. They can spotlight examples of actions they hope to see more of within the culture. Sometimes, these examples already exist within the culture, but at a limited scale.


Harness networks.

Effective movement makers are extremely good at building coalitions, bridging disparate groups to form a larger and more diverse network that shares a common purpose. And effective movement makers know how to activate existing networks for their purposes.

Create safe havens.

Movement makers are experts at creating or identifying spaces within which movement members can craft strategy and discuss tactics. The rules of engagement and behaviors of activists are different from those of the dominant culture. They’re microcosms of what the movement hopes will become the future.

The dominant culture and structure of today’s organizations are perfectly designed to produce their current behaviors and outcomes, regardless of whether those outcomes are the ones you want. If your hope is for individuals to act differently, it helps to change their surrounding conditions to be more supportive of the new behaviors, particularly when they are antithetical to the dominant culture. Use of latest technology like VComply to manage compliance tasks is a step ahead to embrace change.

Use of symbols.

Movement makers are experts at constructing and deploying symbols and costumes that simultaneously create a feeling of solidarity and demarcate who they are and what they stand for to the outside world. Symbols and costumes of solidarity help define the boundary between “us” and “them” for movements. These symbols can be as simple as a T-shirt, bumper sticker, or button supporting a general cause, or as elaborate as the giant puppets we often see used in protest events.

A cultural change only happens when people take action. While articulating a mission and changing company structures are important, it’s often a more successful approach to tackle those sorts of issues after you’ve been able to show people the change you want to see.

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