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Dialog 5: When the culture needs to change


As businesspeople, we're indebted to psychologist Kurt Lewin for many things, including the Force Field Analysis. Lewin gave us a beautifully simple model for change: Thaw-Introduce-Refreeze. Here you're serving in a leadership capacity as you meet with a subordinate who's reluctant to face an inevitable change.

Experience Shows

Whether or not it was intentional, the use of the word "we" in the subordinate's first remark suggests that opposition is extensive. Notice how the supervisor gently separated the subordinate's reluctance from the department's as a whole.


Basically, the leader has a limited number of mandates he must follow to ensure that the change doesn't negatively impact the culture:

  • He needs to be visible.
  • He needs to show support.
  • He needs to make the unknown less fearful.
  • He needs to continuously communicate.

Be Careful

While a strong leader can and should make his mark upon the culture, such uniformity of thought makes cultural change much harder. For example, author David Hofrichter posits that if you scratch a GE manager, you just might see Jack Welch bleed.

Figure 3.5 When the Culture Needs to Change.

The Lewin Model reflects a long-term strategy. You just need to take the first step of "defrosting" the existing mindset. And you'll use the 3-I Strategy to do so: Inform, Involve, and Incise. Read the script to see how it all works.

Further Considerations

In helping others adjust to change, it often helps to reflect on all the changes they've already made—from school graduation to the present. This often brings the realization that we not only have survived numerous changes but that we're usually better off for having done so.

What the Research Shows

Since the 1930s, anthropologists have worked within organizations to help affect change. The most famous in-volvement may have been that of an-thropologist W. Lloyd Warner, who was instrumental in carrying out the study of worker productivity at the Haw-thorne Works, a Chicago factory owned by Western Electric. These scientists of culture make frequent and important contributions to the corporate realm as it struggles with reshaping the old and introducing the new.

Point out the wisdom of Bruce Barton's saying: "When you're through changing, you're through." That alone may make your point.

Come to such a meeting with numerous examples of other organizations that have chosen to undergo cultural change.

What the Exemplars Do

Master negotiators plan for every possible eventuality. They think long and hard about the negotiation conditions. For them, the negotiation process begins well in advance of the face-to-face meeting. One tool they use to achieve desired outcomes is the Force-Field Analysis. It requires specifying the current conditions and comparing them to the ideal. Then the restraining forces are listed—those things that might prevent negotiators from achieving the ideal. Next, the driving forces are listed—those elements that could make existing realities ideal realities.

Ask Yourself

  • What aspects of the current culture do I like best?
  • What do people complain about most?
  • How much control do I have over the existing culture?
  • What culture do I regard as ideal?
  • What changes have I introduced at work?
  • How were my suggestions received?
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