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Who Says Culture Can’t Change Fast? The Challenge is Making it Positive and Making it Last!

At the recent conference of the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL – formerly AONE), someone remarked to me that changing culture was like turning around an aircraft carrier, meaning that it takes a long time.

This is a common misconception. In fact, today’s aircraft carriers can make turns with considerable speed. Just so, culture can also change fast – very fast – for worse or for better.

Making culture worse, fast

It’s easy to quickly make culture worse. A layoff, or even fear of layoffs, will do it. So will “cracking the whip” and “holding people’s feet to the fire” to hold them accountable for doing more with less.

So too will an ill-advised public comment from the CEO. I recently received an email from a newsletter reader who works at a large hospital. She told me that anxiety levels had become “sky-high” over the past several months. She asked what I could do to help.

I went to that hospital’s website, which features a video message from the CEO. In it, he confidently predicted that the hospital as we know it will go away within the not-to-distant future. He said not one word about how this disappearance of hospitals, including the one for which he is responsible, would affect the job security and future careers of the more than 4,500 people who currently depend upon his hospital for their paychecks.

Is it any wonder that anxiety levels have “skyrocketed” (again quoting the email) at that hospital in recent months?

Unfortunately, while it is easy to quickly make culture worse, it can (and usually does) take a long time to repair the damage. That is why every action, every decision, and every statement by the CEO and other members of the executive team should be assessed for its potential culture impact.

Changing culture for the better, fast

Because assumptions often contribute to self-fulfilling prophecies, one of the assumptions that we always challenge when launching a new Values and Culture Project is that changing culture is like trying to turn an aircraft carrier.

We are currently working on a Values and Culture Project with Tri-County Health Care in Minnesota. Though we are only three months into the process, we are already seeing a significant positive impact on culture. In a recent survey of the management team, 95% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that the culture has become much more positive in just the past few months. Here are several typical comments:

  • People genuinely seem happier. We are having more of the tough conversations and being more open with one another.
  • Less gossip. More people reaching out past their comfort zone.
  • In general people are kinder and more helpful. More team approach.
  • Staff acknowledge each other and are overall more friendly when you meet them in the hallway, etc.
  • That staff is starting to take more ownership in what they do and how they may contribute to the negativity.
  • A positive vibe around the hospital and the fact that the daily huddle is still growing. Coworkers are more attentive to the needs of their coworkers promoting teamwork for a great patient experience.

We launch every Values and Culture Project with The Pickle Challenge because it is a fun and lighthearted way to raise awareness of and intolerance for toxic emotional negativity by turning complaints into charitable contributions. This almost always sparks incredible enthusiasm and creates the “early wins” that foster the sort of quick culture change we are seeing at Tri-County Health Care, Children’s Hospital of New Orleans, and other organizations with which we are currently partnering.

The real challenge is sustaining the change

It is relatively easy to have a quick positive impact on culture, but the real challenge is in sustaining culture change momentum. Notice that I said “sustaining culture change momentum” and not just “sustaining culture change.”

When it comes to building a more positive Culture of Ownership, the only way to keep the progress you have made is to keep making more progress. Building a Culture of Ownership is an ongoing journey, not a final destination.

A Values and Culture Project unfolds in four stages (pictured below) with the fourth stage being to sustain momentum. But in actual fact, there is substantial overlap between each stage and, in the spirit of beginning with the end in mind, even during the Assess stage we are already planning for the Sustain stage.

We can help you turn your aircraft carrier quickly!

For more than 20 years Values Coach been obsessively focused on helping healthcare organizations build a positive culture of ownership. Download the Values and Culture Project flyer and case study to see how we can help you, your people, and your organization not only make that change but sustain it.

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