The first sentences of this article grab your attention like the opening lines of a good novel. But Bryan Walker and Sarah Soule aren’t writing fiction; they’re describing the elusive force that drives most businesses: culture.

“Culture,” the authors say, “is like the wind. It is invisible, yet its effect can be seen and felt. When it is blowing in your direction, it makes for smooth sailing. When it is blowing against you, everything is more difficult.”

“But culture change can’t be achieved through top-down mandate,” Walker and Soule continue. “It lives in the collective hearts and habits of people and their shared perception of ‘how things are done around here.’ Someone with authority can demand compliance, but they can’t dictate optimism, trust, conviction, or creativity.”

And there you have the universal change conundrum – and it’s an unwelcome reality for some business leaders. The truth is that culture doesn’t change because the CEO says it should or because senior vice-presidents send blast emails to their organizations or because HR posts behavior goals on the company website.

People and change just don’t work that way. People have to see action, be convinced the change is really happening and is better – for themselves, the company, and even the larger society – before they’ll buy-in. A change leader must act and not just talk.

That’s why leading change is hard and why the authors say successful business change takes a movement just as societal change does:

“We often think of movements as starting with a call to action. But movement research suggests that they actually start with emotion — a diffuse dissatisfaction with the status quo and a broad sense that the current institutions and power structures of the society will not address the problem. This brewing discontent turns into a movement when a voice arises that provides a positive vision and a path forward that’s within the power of the crowd.

“What’s more, 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.”

The article goes on to discuss five practices for leading a movement and the leadership challenges of “movements-based approach to change.”

If you are a leader wanting to make large changes in the way your company works or if you are trying to more effectively manage your department or team, these foundational concepts are worth understanding and putting into use. They are the basic components of effective and lasting change.

Contact us and we can walk with you through the necessary stages of successful business change.

Read the full article here