UK: First class coach - Make yourself heard.

UK: First class coach - Make yourself heard. - I am head of strategy in a medium-sized company with ambitious growth plans. I have been trying to introduce a more dynamic, entrepreneurial culture but communicating this to colleagues has proved frustratin

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I am head of strategy in a medium-sized company with ambitious growth plans. I have been trying to introduce a more dynamic, entrepreneurial culture but communicating this to colleagues has proved frustrating. My ideas are not filtering down the ranks. I say one thing and another is played back to me.

The tricky bit is not the analysis, or even finding the quickest route to profitable growth - it is getting people to act differently. Often they just don't get it. There are textbooks on how to change people's behaviour but in the end, it boils down to a few simple but powerful steps.

Firstly, involve your staff. You say your ideas are not filtering down and are, in fact, coming back as something different. Employees are both resisting the messages and misinterpreting them. But you use the words 'my ideas'. Have you involved others in formulating them? Without engaging managers and staff in forming strategy, effective implementation will be difficult.

Involve front-line staff in examining how to improve customer service.

Appoint a cross-company task group, for example, to look at ways of improving the supply chain. Look at how other benchmark companies do things. This way you will start to build a climate for change and its implementation.

Look at the history of change in your company. How many initiatives have there been in the past two or three years? If more than one or two, your staff may be suffering from an overload. Many employees learn that their leaders adopt fads or fashions, launching new ways of thinking with gusto.

Videos are produced and communication packs are distributed but two or three months later, things are back to normal, so people view these disruptions as a waste of time. If you are genuinely committed to building a new culture, you have to pursue it as a long-term project.

Look at the way you recruit, develop and promote staff. What kind of behaviour gets rewarded? Who are the heroes in your organisation? Does your pay system reward the behaviour you are trying to motivate? One of the most powerful things Jack Welch did at GE was get rid of people who were meeting their targets but whose behaviour was not contributing to the business' long-term growth. A few of these dismissals and the grapevine was buzzing.

Research we did a few years ago showed that 75% of the information received by employees comes not from written or spoken words but from the company's way of doing things. How you pay, promote, inform and manage people will tell them more about what really counts than anything you say.

It is the organisation's line managers who will ultimately determine how the culture is shaped. Are they models of the new behaviours themselves?

A good way to detect the culture of an organisation is through what its leaders pay attention to. What statistics do they pore over each month?

Do they reflect an emphasis on new business, or on innovation? How are new ideas received and supported? Start to acknowledge and celebrate innovative projects. Create some entrepreneurial champions - innovators are the seed-corn of your future, so make sure they have the conditions in which to grow.

One way to bring your vision to life is to 'stand in the future' and to clearly describe how you would like your organisation to be. How would customers experience it? How would staff work? Concepts are not enough to help people understand what a new culture will really be like. You need to make it concrete for them - your marketing department can help with an internal campaign.

If you want people to behave differently, you have to win them over intellectually and emotionally. Spend a day with front-line staff and consider how things could be done differently. Use the experience to help shape your internal communications campaign.

And finally, stand back from the business. Is there anything that you do now which is getting in the way of the new culture? Look at examples of where the company failed to exploit a new idea, or was slow to develop a new product. This should reveal some blocks to innovation. These can be quite simple, such as too many layers of management. Look for ways in which you can take things away. Otherwise it's like driving with the brakes on.

If it's any comfort, you are not alone. Many perfectly able leaders are struggling with the same issue - how to shift the behaviour of people throughout their business. The benefits of creating a more dynamic and market-responsive culture are huge. It leads to profitable growth, releases the potential of your staff and creates a better workplace for the people that you want to keep.

Margaret Exley leads the European change and communication practice of Towers Perrin, the management consultants.

She was a founder of Kinsley Lord. She is also a non-executive director of the Management Board of HM Treasury. This is the first column in a series on executive coaching.

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