Cultural interventions are difficult, but they can be successful. You need to clearly define your goals and have a plan for how to reach them — but you also need the willingness and ability to discard your preconceptions and adjust your plan when reality doesn’t line up with your expectations. You are likely to encounter resistance at first, as Oliver did, if you approach changing your organization’s culture in a heavy-handed, top-down way. But when you approach culture more thoughtfully, taking a holistic view of how the organization works in practice, you can make a real difference, even in parts of the culture that seemed intractable before.
Perhaps the most powerful aspect of culture change is the way goals expand after an early success. As Steve Willis, pastor of the city’s First Baptist Church, said to Oliver, “This isn’t going to change lives. This is going to save lives.” He meant literally that people would live longer, but also that the whole city would see its capabilities broaden. Of course, there are still overweight people in Huntington, W. Va., and if the community overcomes one challenge, there will be many more to follow (such as rebuilding the economy). Your own company will go on to face other problems as well. But once you learn how to change habits and get an organization to “eat its peas,” you’ll soon be ready to take on new challenges — whether that means eating tomatoes or eating the competition.
Reprint No. 11205
- Rutger von Post is a principal with Booz & Company based in New York. He specializes in organizational change and leadership for the financial-services and healthcare industries and is a fellow of the Katzenbach Center.