Agitation: Step 1 in building a purposeful culture

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clouds on the horizon

You can’t and shouldn’t change a culture just for the sake of it. Obvious, right? And yet managers often announce change programmes without referencing and quantifying specific motivations.

There’s little doubt that people act more positively and decisively when they are presented with a context for actions. A real context. A pain point they can feel. An opportunity that stares them in the eye and says “Come get me”. So often, the reasons given for changing a culture are far too broad. They’re couched around concepts or theory – productivity gains or the need to downsize or an economic change of fortune. The thing is, none of those reasons sound like reasons. They sound like excuses or, worse, prompts. They’re mantras not motives.

In this wonderful article courtesy of Bain & Co, authors Patrick Litre and Kevin Murphy trace the ups and downs of the traditional change programme:

Bain's change program trend

Specifically, the Agitation stage of a culture change programme needs to address the three change resistors that cause that significant dip at the start:

•  Anchoring locks people into conventional thought patterns;
•  The ambiguity effect means they would rather deal with what they know than what they don’t know (yet); and
•  Confirmation bias encourages them to look for evidence not to act and to doubt whether change will work.

Building a purposeful culture starts with providing people with a purposeful reason for changing the culture they have.

Answer these kinds of questions:
What exactly has happened to make upheaval necessary now?
Why today – and not last year?
And WIIFM to get involved and to do everything possible to make it succeed?

Deliver a trigger that is powerful enough to incite action and not just compliance.

Prove “we can’t stay here”.

Photo of “hey son, get out of the clouds” taken by Ibrahim lujaz, sourced from Flickr

Further reading
The idea of Agitation came from BJ Fogg. Read my original post on this here.
Looking for a list? Here’s 30 things you should tell employees.

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