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Changing Attitudes

In his latest blog, Director Jonathan Booth reflects on how attitude change within the organisation starts with its leaders. If changing a culture through changing attitudes is managed in a balanced and open way, you can find your team will rally to the cause quicker and easier.

Like most parents, as my children charged headlong through their teenage years, I realised that my influence over them was and still is rapidly diminishing.  You are left hoping that we as parents have built strong enough foundations from which they can continue to grow themselves.

When I think about those foundations, I hope what they continue to develop above all else is a positive attitude to life. It’s attitude that makes the difference:

Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but by how we react to what happens, not by what life brings to us, but the attitude we bring to life“.

Organisational Attitudes

So, what has all this got to do with organisational change? Individuals, not organisations, have attitudes, don’t they?

Organisations are collections of individuals and they combine with leaders to create organisational attitudes. These underpin and shape the beliefs and behaviours of the organisation and the individuals within it thereby shape the organisational culture.

If you really want to change a business culture, you must start by looking at the underlying attitudes of people in your organisation. Sometimes it’s a good idea to start changing these attitudes before anything else!

Leaders that are negative (critical, reactive, short-termist, internally focused, etc) will not inspire their colleagues about a brighter future or engage them in a long-term vision.  Even if they try, it doesn’t come across as authentic. . They can galvanise change, for sure, but “physician heal thyself” springs to mind. The reasons for these attitudes need to be understood and addressed first.

Creating a Change of Attitude

In an organisational setting, the key to changing attitudes is engagement and communication. Taking the time to explain what and why changes are required is critical. Asking people for their input seems obvious, but it is often overlooked in the rush to change.

If you rush, it is easy for employees to think that they aren’t valued and that change is being imposed on them rather than ‘with’ them. If a pattern is set, the more these attitudes harden and become embedded in the organisational culture.

So, how leaders change their attitude, is absolutely critical, right from the start. Taking the time to think about the approach and its likely effect on others is often the difference between success and failure.

A Game of Two Halves?

I am fascinated by the common perception that attitudes are either positive or negative,  a common definition being: ‘an attitude can be defined as a positive or negative evaluation of people, activities or ideas, in your environment’.

But why can’t attitudes be balanced – and not this binary choice? In organisations, other dimensions exist: active and reactive; short and long-term plans; external and internal focus.  The more we veer towards one extreme or the other; the more likely we are to alienate those with a different perspective.

A Balanced Approach 

Failing to adopt a balanced approach is one of key factors behind the well-understood stat that 70% of change initiatives fail. I think this is because they haven’t been well thought through, addressed in a balanced way or considered from a number of viewpoints.

If you want to generate quick savings or performance improvements, managers often think they don’t have time to consider the impact on their employees or how to engage them in the need for change. They feel the pressure to come up with the quick solution. This short-term, reactive attitude- can lead to targets being missed and more damage being created in the long-term.

It’s never easy for managers though is it?  Take too long to consider all the options and to consult with their colleagues and they can be accused of being slow and unresponsive.

Balance is required. And this balanced approach ensures that all the relevant issues have been considered, possibly quickly, and then (crucially) communicated to all affected parties.

So, if an urgent change has to be made and there isn’t time to engage everyone affected, that’s ok – as long as you explain to everyone why this was the case and provide opportunity to give feedback on the change.

It feels like common sense again doesn’t it? So why isn’t it commonly practised? That’s easy to ask from an independent, objective perspective if you’re not in the thick of it, but that doesn’t make it any less true!

So, whatever the change you’re planning, take the time to think about your attitude to change before you dive in – and make sure you’re taking a balanced approach to planning the desired change.

Journey4 has taken many businesses through successful culture and attitude changes as part of their growth and transformation programmes. For more information on our approach, contact us on 01823 451 199 or complete an enquiry form for a confidential discussion.