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The Tipping Point in Driving Cultural Change

Changing your company’s culture can take anywhere between one to three years. In the early stages, you’ll find that you need to put in a lot of effort to keep reinforcing the new culture. But after a while, you’ll reach a ‘tipping point’ where the change will drive itself.

This is the point where the idea of change starts to “click” with people and take on a life of its own. When this happens, you won’t need to be its driving force any more. You can step back and keep an eye on the success indicators.

So how can you bring about this tipping point faster?

Malcolm Gladwell, the bestselling author and one of TIME Magazine’s Most Influential People of 2005, says there are three factors : Influencers, Stickiness of Message and Context.

1. Influencers

These are the people who have social authority because they have built trust and strong relationships with others.

When they genuinely buy-in to change, their endorsement will naturally convert the rest.

You can engage them in two ways :

  • Appoint them to be champions who model the desired changes in behaviour
  • Invitex them to provide you with insights on the current pulse of the organization, raising issues, challenges, and honest feedback that you might not otherwise have been aware of.

Find out more about how to engage the influencers in your organization: Your Secret Weapon in Culture Change: Informal Influencers

2. Stickiness of Message

Stickiness is how well people remember a message, or how well it sticks in their minds. The most effective and sticky messages are simple, clear, and easy to understand and act upon. If you want change to spread, then you need to break it down to a level that every single person in your organization can understand and repeat to others.

A great example of a company doing this is the Ritz-Carlton. The Ritz-Carlton chain of hotels is famed for practicing daily 30-minute morning meetings with all staff. Their mantra of ‘Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen’ is the main focus, and every day, at least one inspiring story is shared about a staff member who managed to create a positive “WOW” moment for a customer.

If you want people to remember and internalize something new, you have to overcome to major barriers: confusion and forgetfulness. In the first instance, if your message is ambiguous or too complicated, people won’t understand it. By keeping your message about change clear and easy to understand, it takes on meaning.

In the second instance, people may simply be apathetic towards your message and forget it after hearing it for the first time. Studies prove that adults have to hear something about 6 – 17 times before they remember it. So constant repetition and reinforcement, although it may seem juvenile at first, is not a bad thing – it solidifies and drives home your message of change.

3. Context

People are extremely sensitive to their environments, and we subconsciously respond even without realising it. For example, sitting in a softer chair makes us softer negotiators (and vice versa for hard chairs), while holding a warm cup of coffee causes us to be warmer to those we are with (and vice versa for a cold tumbler).

To change beliefs and behaviour, you need to create an environment that is conducive to the desired culture. This applies to the physical environment (office space), as well as the cultural environment (behaviours demonstrated, encouraged, tolerated, punished).

If you want to see cultural transformation in your organisation hit the tipping point quicker, then focus on these three areas: getting the buy-in of your biggest influencers, simplifying the way you talk about change, and making subtle changes in the environment to encourage behaviour change.

Get those things right, consistently, and you might just find yourself at the tipping point for change sooner than you expect.

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