Why culture change is so hard (but not impossible)

I attended an event last night in Melbourne, hosted by Conscious Capitalism Australia. It was my first introduction to the Conscious Capitalism philosophy and while it was very INFORMATIVE, what I liked best about it was that it was genuinely TRANSFORMATIVE. I was impressed by how quickly I got into meaningful discussion with my peers and there was a real feeling that change was occurring. Not just with the individuals in the room, but within their wider networks. You could tell that this was a group of people who could make stuff happen.

We were introduced to the Four Tenets of a Conscious Business (being Higher Purpose, Stakeholder Orientation, Conscious Leadership and Conscious Culture) and my group elected to deep-dive on culture. What struck me as the conversation unfolded was that a culture had been created within the group and it exemplified the Conscious Business acronym TACTILE: Trust, Authenticity, Caring, Transparency, Integrity, Learning and Empowerment. Largely due, I am sure, to the expert facilitator (and highlighting the value of having them in every business) but also, I believe, to the clarity of purpose each individual had in being there.

There was far too much ‘fresh thinking’ for me to capture it all here, but the discussion helped me to clarify a view that I have held for a while, and that is that culture change cannot and should not be approached en masse. It’s a sad reality that large scale transformation programs that seek to change whole organisational cultures, frequently fail, or at the very least turn out to be a lot more protracted and expensive than they should be. Irrespective of how clear the purpose, how good the stakeholder engagement, how conscious the leadership. The reason is simple. By looking at the problem as a business problem, rather than a human one, we dehumanise it, thereby removing any and all accountability for change. As individuals we all want to change, but collectively no one can see how and crucially no one thinks they are the one that needs to change.

The solution, I believe, lies in the power of peer-to-peer relationships and the ability of one person to make a difference in the life of another (and then another and another and so on). None of the participants in the room last night had the power to change a whole organisation. Not even the CEOs in the room. But we all recognised we had the power to change someone, and that this would be enough. We all knew that we could change ourselves, in that moment and thereafter and that by doing so, we would change others.

That is what I call Conscious Leadership and that is how Conscious Businesses will be created.