A framework for approaching
David T Lee
The following is a framework for addressing cultural
change. It is based on cultural changes seen in both
corporate and public environments.
Using this framework, we can develop programs to
move an organization towards a culture in which it
hopes to operate vs the culture in which it currently
A framework for approaching
Here is everyone.
These are the people who you are trying to influence.
Here are your RULEMAKERS. These are the people who have the
ability to official changes to policies, incentive plans, or laws.
Here are your ACTIVISTS. These are the motivated people who are
leading the effort to change. Sometimes they have leadership
positions, sometimes they do not.
When your RULEMAKERS and ACTIVISTS are aligned, the population
will more easily move toward the intended behavior. When the rules
support the intended movement, progress can be mandated.
Consider the Civil Rights Act
of 1964. The RULEMAKERS
(Congress) move to support of
the work of the ACTIVISTS (Civil
Rights leaders) and large scale
cultural progress is formalized.
Sometimes there are ANTI-ACTIVISTS. These are motivated people
who actively look to reach a different (or opposite) goal than your
When the ANTI-ACTIVISTS influence as strongly as the ACTIVISTS, their
efforts cancel out and the population doesn’t move. This stalemate will
persist if the RULEMAKERS do not exert an influence one way or another.
An example of this is the
debate around abortion in
the US. Here, both sides work
tirelessly to influence. In contrast
to attitudes towards civil rights, the
population has moved hardly at all since the 1960’s.
There are also OUTSIDERS who are not subject to the influence of
either the RULEMAKERS or the ACTIVISTS. However, they are
important because they provide social proof to the population.
When the OUTSIDER position is heavily polarized compared to the
target population, there may be movement regardless of what the
RULEMAKERS or ACTIVISTS want to see happen.
In a corporate environment,
this can be seen when all
other competitors in an
industry adopt a practice or
develop a service.
airlines charging for
checked bags or banks
standards to stay
It’s important to consider that sometimes the OUTSIDERS may be
much, much larger than the target population.
Nirvana for cultural change occurs when the RULEMAKERS,
ACTIVISTS, and OUTSIDERS all align to paint a vision of the future
that seems clear to everyone.
Weak / Non-existent
A clear example of this is the
dot-com boom of the late 90’s
where everyone saw the value of
doing business on the internet.
You can group your population into three subsets regarding the
adoption of cultural change. SUPPORTERS and SKEPTICS take more
and less adoptive stances towards the change. THE CROWD is
indifferent with the change, but will move with the larger audience.
As you make progress towards cultural change, you will see the
population of SUPPORTERS grow and SKEPTICS shrink. Obviously, a
population with more SUPPORTERS is easier to move.
To accelerate cultural change, stories of HEROES demonstrating
model behavior need to be shared and celebrated. The SKEPTICS
need to be shown PROOF that the new ways are better.
Nordstrom and Zappos spend
a lot of time cultivating
HEROES and sharing stories
in their culture.
Lou Gerstner used his own
behavior and financial
results as PROOF to win over
the SKEPTICS while
ACTIVISTS and RULEMAKERS need to provide OPPORTUNITIES for
SUPPORTERS to become HEROES. This can be though arranging events
or simply giving people PERMISSION to exhibit the model behavior.
TO BE A HERO
From the Civil Rights
movement, Rosa Parks was
asked to play the role of HERO.
In business, the RULEMAKERS at
Lockheed Martin separated a
Skunk Works® team to work
outside the normal rules.
Google and 3M build these
opportunities into the everyday
work life of their engineers.
1. RULEMAKERS give PERMISSION and incentive
to ACTIVISTS and SUPPORTERS to exhibit
2. ACTIVISTS work to create OPPORTUNITIES
for SUPPORTERS to become HEROES.
3. HERO STORIES are shared with
SUPPORTERS and THE CROWD to
give energy to the movement.
4. Real-world results and evidence
from OUTSIDERS are shared with
SKEPTICS as PROOF that this
cultural movement is the more
valid model for the future.
How it can work together
A Framework for Cultural Change
There are two common actors in cultural change that are
purposefully avoided in this framework:
These are the people whose actions represent the direct opposite behavior
of the HEROES. In this framework, these actors could be considered
HEROES to the ANTI-ACTIVISTS. This framework asserts that VILLAIN
STORIES will be counterproductive for the change effort, because it acts to
polarize and energize the SKEPTICS and ANTI-ACTIVISTS.
These are far-end activists. In the real-world, these may materialize as
fringe organizations or individual radicals. It’s important to recognize that
these actors may help a cause by painting the moderate ACTIVISTS as more
reasonable actors. However, in a corporate environment, EXTREMISTS are
probably not tolerated (for long) and don’t need to be incorporated in this
Who is avoided in this framework?