We are igniting momentum during COVID-19

10 lessons on how to hack culture rather than change it


1. The era of both/and

In the modern era, sustained success can only come from relentlessly innovating customer experience AND continuously taking cost out to reinvest. There are no one-off cost programmes anymore. Senior leaders have got a big job to do to help their people understand and adjust to this new reality.

2. Central what, local how

Let's face it, change is scary and frankly unwelcome. Doing it to people simply doesn't work. The key job of the centre/senior leaders is to ensure local teams understand the need to change and the outcomes they need to deliver. Their role is to clear the way and allow local teams to experiment with how to make that change a reality.

3. To change yourself, be the best of yourself

Change often brings out the worst in us. Leaders can bring dark side traits - narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism. Employees can retreat to child - acting out of fear, hiding and rebelling. The path to sustained change lies in bringing your authentic self - the most virtuous, positive version of you. How do we make this connection to us at our best a core part of any change strategy?

4. Surround yourself with people who already are what you want to be

The Michelangelo phenomenon shows that one of the most successful strategies for behavioural change is to surround ourselves with people who represent the traits we are striving for - at a 12 out of 10 level. By rubbing up against them in our day-to-day work, we can chip off the rough edges of behaviours we want to leave behind.

5. Forge relationships, top to bottom

In times of change, senior leaders are prone to succumbing to their dark side traits. One of the most powerful things we can do is help them forge deep personal relationships with those who work in the guts of the organisation - those who already collaborate brilliantly, always think customer first, and solve problems with unerring agility.

6. Look for connectors, not champions

Better relationships accelerate change. A key approach is to identify and harness informal networks across the organisation. Or - even better - staff local teams with your best connectors in the first place. Connecting your local experimental hubs will drive the sharing of best practice and create a community of people that can drive the change from the ground up.

7. Flood the middle

Change programmes tend to focus first on changing out senior leaders. But this is the wrong place to focus. The best way to get new skills and behaviours into the organisation is to add new people to each middle management team instead - using the power of those change agents where it can quickly affect change in the day-to-day, both up and down.

8. Hire for the bright side

We can’t ignore the fact that there will need to be senior leader changes too. It is all too tempting to default to people who can sell the change better (at their worst, narcissists), outstanding deliverers (psychopaths), or canny political operators (Machiavellians). Instead, let's make sure we bring in people who represent the exec team at their best - outstanding collaborators, courageous innovators, customer champions.

9. Attention creates momentum

It is often said that what is measured is what happens. But psychologically speaking that isn’t true. It’s what you pay attention to that will shift. So create an environment where day to day experimentation is recognised & celebrated in teams; admit mistakes; focus on what lessons can be learnt; pay attention to and notice what people are doing differently; & praise the effort as well as the success achieved.

10. The critical necessity of leaders with courage

Ultimately, we all know that the best way to create powerful change in our organisation is not to reach for a turnkey programme and the mother of all measurement dashboards. The only way this can realistically happen is if we have senior air cover to do it the way that feels riskier - surrender control and create the conditions for people to hack the culture. And that requires real courage.