Culture – Are you dancing with the devil?

In a dramatic turn of events in the NSW Police Force just before Christmas, the Commissioner dumped two members of the Police Reform Group.

In time, the Police Integrity Commission will reveal the true story. The sacked employees are prevented from speaking publicly about the matter. But that did not stop one of the wives commenting. The Sydney Morning Herald reported (Dec 30, 2000) one of the wives saying to her husband: ‘You have danced with the devil.’ The devil being a deeply embedded police culture that was resisting reform.

There is no doubt that the challenges of reforming the NSW Police Force provide some vivid examples of the difficulties in bringing about fundamental change in organizations unless the culture supports the change or, at least, can be altered to support the new initiatives.

I recently was reminded how intense resistance can be in another way. In November last year, I visited the Cu Chi Tunnels just outside Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. These are some of the tunnels that the Viet Cong dug during the Vietnam War. I crawled 50 metres along an original section of the tunnels – on my hands and knees, as there was no other way in which I could fit inside. Half way along this almost dark and very claustrophobic journey, my heart was racing wildly and I had to stop and breathe deeply to calm myself.

Yet the Viet Cong lived for months in 3 levels of these tunnels sometimes crawling up to 10 km at a time to make one single attack on a nearby airfield, and sometimes having to make the return journey with wounded compatriots on their backs. Whatever your views on the politics of the Vietnam War, the people who lived and fought for years from these tunnels showed extraordinary commitment to their way of life, their culture and this was manifested in their extreme resistance to imposed change.

On the other hand, sometimes our resistance to change is born of apathy. Sometimes of just not being aware of what is available and how it will impact us. How many of you rushed out and bought a black box converter for your TV so that you could receive digital TV from Jan 1?

Even more frustrating is when complacency sets in and inhibits change. Can you begin to imagine the exasperation of the RTA and the police in NSW at the appalling number of road deaths and injuries over the Christmas – New Year period? This in spite of graphic advertisements, double demerit points and media saturation urging drivers to slow down, control fatigue, wear seat belts and not drink and drive. Do people become immune to these exhortations?

Or is there another element at play here? One letter writer to the SMH suggested that the public recognised that most of the safety system was devised simply to generate revenue. He wrote: “Dishonest rhetoric and speed traps on straight and safe roads breed cynicism and lack of respect for anything that the RTA, the police and politicians have to say”.

Whatever the truth is, any large-scale change requires us to confront the large issue of culture. This can be a daunting task – even identifying culture, that invisible and often complex system of beliefs and practices that determines how people act in organizations is fraught with difficulty.

Here are 10 cultural components that one writer (Timothy Galpin HR Magazine March 1996) says to consider when implementing change:

1. Rules and Policies

Eliminate rules and policies that hinder the change and create new ones that reinforce the desired way of operating. Develop and document new SOP’s.

2. Goals and Measurement

Develop goals and measurements that reinforce the desired changes.

3. Customs and Norms

Replace old ways of doing things that reinforce the old ways with new customs and norms. Eg replace written reports with face-to-face meetings.

4. Training

Again replace training that reinforces the old way of doing things with new training. Develop experiential training that provides real time, hands on experiences with new processes and procedures.

5. Ceremonies and Events

Put in place ceremonies and events that reinforce the new ways. Recognise individual and team contributions to making the changes work.

6. Management Behaviours

Publicly recognise and reward managers who change by linking promotion and pay to the desired behaviours. Do not promote or pay increases to managers who do not come on board.

7. Rewards and Recognition

Make rewards specific to the change goals that have been set. Ensure that the performance management system recognises and rewards the desired ways of operating and does not simply reinforce the old ways. For example, a performance management system that measures only individual behaviour will undermine any attempts to inculcate a culture of teamwork.

8. Communications

Deliver communications in new ways to show commitment to change. Use multiple channels to deliver consistent messages at all stages during the transition, before, during and after.

9. Physical environment

Make sure the physical environment reflects the change. If knowledge and information sharing is your gaol, get people out of offices and into open, shared areas. If you want them to talk to their customers, create ‘virtual’ offices so that your people are encouraged to work outside the office with customers.

10. Organizational structure

Make sure that structure reinforces the operational changes. Combine overlapping divisions; re-organize around customers as opposed to functions.