I was meeting with a senior VP the other day and we were discussing the culture in the organization. She identified it was not where she wanted it due in part to the senior leadership team not being aligned. To illustrate her point, she recounted a story of how she believed a fellow executive had thrown her and her team under the bus and blamed her department for an issue that arose last week. As we were talking about how she might approach this executive to discuss the situation, I could tell she was reluctant to even engage in the conversation about different approaches. Finally, I asked her, “What’s your belief about that person’s intentions towards you?” She abruptly sat back in the chair, her eyes got wider, and she was very quiet for a few moments. “I don’t want to say it out loud,” she said. “It sounds so awful.” I encouraged her to say it out loud. “I don’t trust her. I think she is in it for herself, she’s focused on making herself look good and not concerned with the good of the whole organization,” she finally blurted out. “Awesome!” I said, “Now that’s something we can work with!” Of course, this VP is not going to be able to have a constructive conversation with this person if she believes this person’s intentions are not positive. We changed the focus of our coaching conversation to this VP’s beliefs and then explored ways she could find out more about the other person’s beliefs and intentions.
In Roger Connors book, ‘Change the Culture, Change the Game’ he explores the concept that “If you want to understand why someone is doing something, you must discover their beliefs about what they think will occur as a result of either taking or not taking a particular action.”
How many times have you been frustrated by another person’s actions and asked yourself, “What were they thinking?”. According to Connors what you really want to ask is “What in their belief system led them to that particular action?”
Connors goes on to discuss that not all beliefs are created equal. Some will be superficial and will not influence a person’s actions in a dramatic way, some are relatively strong and are developed over time based on a person’s experiences in the world, while others are very deep rooted and form the basis for a person’s values, morals and perspective on right and wrong.
“When leaders work with this deeper, more lasting aspect of behavior, they tap into the most fundamental accelerator of effective cultural change,” Connor says.
First Challenge Your Own Beliefs
Changing the culture in your organization or on your team starts with you. You are the one that sets the tone for what behaviors are acceptable or not. You are the one who is consciously or unconsciously strengthening your team’s behavior, for better or worse.
- What beliefs do you hold true that impact your behavior with your team?
- Are these beliefs serving you or not?
- What conversations are you currently having that are not getting you the results you would like? How can you change the conversation?
This VP first needs to have a clear picture of the culture she wants to create, then examine how her beliefs and actions are either aligned or misaligned with that picture, then have conversations with the rest of her executive team to explore their beliefs. Only then can this leadership team gain cultural alignment and start defining behaviors that will move them in the right direction.