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Insight 4: It’s about behaviours, (Stupid!)  The Deeply Embedded Learnt Behaviours.

This insight is part is a series of six insights into strategy, people and performance, derived from working with my clients in 2013.

I recently interviewed twenty Chief Executives whose strategy involved turning around the performance of their organisations by changing the culture and behaviours in the organisation.

This year I started sharing those insights with clients.  If you ever believed that culture eats strategy for breakfast, then the examples from this research will make you think again.What has amazed me is the reaction from the stories I have been telling.

Creating a compelling imperative

Talking about how they create ‘a compelling imperative for change’ resonates with people’s need to understand what is going on and why.

Symbolically removing the bullies

Describing how the word “Bully” came up, unprompted by me, in six of the first seven interviews raises eyebrows and then, often, an admission that there is at least one bully in their organisation.  I follow that up with how the Chief Executives diagnose these people as often representing all that is bad and to be changed about the old culture so that they have to explicitly and symbolically remove the bully, even though they may be high performing.  This has so often led to a sigh of, “It’s a shame we have not done that.  Their presence condones the behaviours and values we don’t want.”

Deeply embedded learnt behaviours

I talk about culture and then explain how useless a word it is.  Culture gives us no clues about how to change the organisation.

However, using the phrase, “Deeply embedded learnt behaviours” makes so much sense to people.  No they have a lever: they are looking at behaviours, behaviours that have been learnt and embedded in the organisation; learnt behaviours that embedded deeply.

This gives us a strategy for change: one where the behaviours are identified and unlearnt.  Permission is granted to adopt new behaviours, and they too have to be learnt and ultimately deeply embedded.

I have over 20 interviews from these chief executives who have changed the performance and cultures of their organisations.   I will be talking more about the insights they have provided, their personalities and the lessons you can learn from them in further posts.