In a response to my last blog post there were several very thoughtful comments. I want to use this blog post to respond to Jay’s comment which raises a number of important issues.

Commenting on the complexity of my model of culture presented in a previous posthe said:

“To illustrate this point, I rely on the following quote from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I believe it says a great deal about what’s required to catalyze an alteration in human behavior and the related consequences…

“The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering [determining] whether you [believe you do or must] ‘love’ your neighbour; [simply] act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”

It’s in the context of bringing about rapid and lasting culture change that I take the translation of this passage/quotation to mean that inculcating a belief in whatever behavior or attitude is desired or expected of one individual toward another need not precede the “acting or doing”. Rather, the mere act of doing often leads to a transformation of the belief system…”

Ergo, it seems most logical to me that in an organizational transformation context, where culture change is a central issue, getting employees to act in the desired manner best precedes any attempt(s) to alter their belief system (which appears at the center of your framework).”

I think this is a great observation. It is true that my model has belief systems at it’s center and one might then assume that one may need to solidify these beliefs, establish “faith” first, then expect behavior to align with that belief system.

The issue of believing first, or feeling first; or on the other hand behaving your way into a new way of feeling and believing, is a debate that goes back to Plato and Aristotle. It is a difference in view that has separated entire schools of psychology – humanism, behaviorism, etc. I will certainly not attempt to argue that one is right and the other wrong. What I will argue is that the human system, like the system of a culture, and organization, or the human body, is a complex system with constant interactions, each affecting the other. And, people have diverse responses to their environments. We do not all learn or change in the same way.

As a practical matter I think it is important for organizations to define and communicate a strong set of beliefs. That does not mean that everyone must become a true believer in those values before they start engaging in “right” behavior. I think “loving thy neighbor” is very analogous to treating customers with respect, integrity and a desire to please. If I owned the company, I would not feel the need to convince everyone, to create faith in the belief of customer service, rather I would very frankly “tell” everyone that this was a requirement of their job. This is one of those “Just-Do-It!” moments. If you do it, you will learn to appreciate the value of putting the customer first. Similarly, if you exercise, you will learn the value of exercise. If you eat well, you will learn the value of a healthy diet.

I think it is the job of the leaders in the organization to align values and behavior. Based on your values, you then define behavior or competencies for all levels of management and employees. This “competency model” should be aligned with the organization’s values. This alignment makes sense of the requirements for behavior. It also leads to consistency of behavior in the culture.

In the United States we have a defined belief system enunciated in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. But, after several hundred years, there is constant testing of the alignment between behavior and beliefs. When can the police search and seize? Are there limits to free speech? Can the government mandate buying health insurance? In a sense, the Congress and Supreme Court are like the strategy team, or “design team” in an organization seeking to define behavior and competencies, systems, structure and symbols to be aligned with the core values of the organization. Just as in our country, I think the search for this alignment in an organization is something that will be an aspect of continuous improvement forever.

This interaction between beliefs, behavior and organization is the illustration of the non-linear nature of complex systems. I agree that it is not necessary that belief precede behavior, or the reverse.

Jay also said that…

“…based on personal experience, it has been through the applied use of learning laboratories (i.e., intentionally created safe environments in which experimental learning, rapid/adaptive problem-solving, and modified behaviors can be put into effect) that rapid culture changes can be “seeded” into an organization. However, one of the keys to having such seedings take root is the ability to create and sustain a fertile environment. And maybe that’s where the complexity of your framework comes into play? It’s in the context of creating and sustaining such an environment, one that’s conducive to the desired behaviors and consequences, that I can see your framework functioning as a planning/assessment mechanism. Unless it’s clearly understood and demonstrable up front what behaviors are the desired ones and which existing ones need to be replaced and why (thereby defining a gap), it seems to me your framework alone would be rather difficult to leverage from the get-go in bringing about the desired cultural and associated behavioral changes. Your thoughts?”

What Jay is very well pointing out is the reality of how people learn. Managers and employees need a laboratory in which they can practice desired behavior without fear of ridicule. With most of my clients over the years I have assisted in the development of a top-to-bottom team process. Everyone is doing it. This makes it safe. The leadership team, middle management teams, and hourly teams, are all practicing the skills of problem solving, facilitation, process mapping, creating customer feedback loops, etc., etc. This is “programmed” and by that I mean that everyone is asked to engage in the behavior whether they believe in it or not. Then, and gradually, it becomes comfortable as they develop competence. Then they begin to see the positive results in performance. Then the managers and systems begin to reinforce the learned behavior. All of these elements need to be present for learning, or a change in the culture, to  take seed and be sustained.