Change is hard. Leading change is even harder. Don’t let culture be an afterthought. Use it! Brett Gleeson writing for Forbes takes us through what I personally believe, is the single most underutilised and miss understood factor in implementing effective, sustainable change. Culture!

Though well-intentioned, that’s why over half of major transformation efforts fail. Why? Many reasons can include but aren’t limited to a bad strategy, a weak culture lacking trust and accountability, poor communication, low levels of buy-in, change fatigue and competing priorities. But one area where many company leaders fail regularly is learning how to leverage the company culture to drive change.

As a former Navy SEAL, I can assure you that the post 9-11 Naval Special Warfare community has experienced constant change. Similarly, having led my own companies through fairly major changes - combined with thorough research - I have developed a model for Culture Driven Transformation (CDT). What does that mean? It is a strategy for analyzing and leveraging the positive aspects of an organization’s culture and using those elements to drive change. It also involves shoring up the weak aspects of the culture and simultaneously fixing the broken parts - changing the culture. A more nimble and adaptive organization is better suited for successfully navigating the murky waters of change. But it often requires a major change in the mindsets and behaviors of the leaders - and quite frankly, the entire company.

The first step in my CDT model is to Perform a Culture Diagnostic.

Before every mission you perform in the SEAL Teams, gathering as much valuable intelligence is critical for understanding what you will be dealing with and how you plan the mission. What details can we learn about the Area of Operation (AO)? Who lives there? How many enemy fighters can we expect on target? How many non-combatants? What weapons do they have? Will they have a QRF (quick reaction force) nearby? What resources and assets will we have at our disposal? The more information the better, especially when you know some of the intelligence may be flawed.

When you have a thorough understanding of the landscape, resources and tools at your disposal, you’re in the best position to make better decisions.

For example, you can use a combination of anonymous surveys, interviews and open forums both at specific levels within the company and company-wide to get some of the answers you’re looking for. These surveys can be customized to gather information in key areas, but you should always leave room for general comments and feedback. I have found this to be where the best and most specific information comes from.

Whatever the results, the data should be used to make the best possible decisions about how culture will fuel change efforts and what parts of the culture should simultaneously be improved.

The second step in the CDT model is to Match Strategy with Culture.

A company where the culture isn’t aligned with its strategy, especially during transformation, is doomed to failure. Culture trumps strategy every time. Great companies have a clearly defined culture that is supported by mindsets and experiences designed to support specific goals. They reinforce the important culture traits through both formal and informal systems.

The SEAL Teams embody a culture of teamwork, innovation and a never-quit attitude. This aligns perfectly with our strategy and vision of maintaining our status as the most elite war-fighters in the world. Everything we do, every experience, every lesson, supports these beliefs. If an organization has a goal of delivering great products and services while being one of the highest-rated work environments in their industry, every strategy, communication and decision must align with that goal.

The third step in the CDT model is to Define Behaviors and Mindsets That Drive Results.

Studies show that only 10% of people who have heart bypass surgery actually make significant changes to their diet and overall wellness. Why? Because change is hard and most people stay away from it if they can. This applies to most organizations as well. Ever when faced with overwhelming evidence that major changes are needed, most companies are slow to take action and lack the sense of urgency required to get things done.

The questions must be asked. “If we have the kind of culture we aspire to - a culture aligned with our strategy - what would the new behaviors be that we need to embody? Which ones would be eliminated?”

In the SEAL Teams or any business organization, culture is all about the beliefs, behaviors and actions of those on the team. If you want to use the strongest aspects of the current culture as a jumping off point, you have to be able to identify which ones are prime movers - the ones that will lead change.

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