iStock_000012297017SmallOne of the biggest hurdles a culture change champion faces is the “seen it all” group. Every organization has them.

These long-time leaders and employees have been around for a decade (or two . . . or three). They’ve heard it all before. They’ve lived through “reengineering,” “total quality management,” “seven habits,” “good to great,” and all the rest.

They’ve learned through experience that most of these initiatives don’t last. The initial enthusiasm wanes when the champions don’t see any traction on the new culture.

These old-timers don’t have to actively fight the initiative; that takes too much energy. All they have to do is nod their heads when the champion speaks – and keep on doing what they’ve always been doing.

The new culture might sound vibrant and exciting, but the old-timers are fully committed to the old ways. They’re motivated – to keep things the same.

They’re not motivated to embrace the new practices and behaviors.

If the old-timers don’t change their behaviors, the culture change won’t likely take hold. The initiative will die.

Can Old Dogs Learn New Tricks?

Culture change isn’t easy. The champion is asking people to step away from time-honored practices. (It doesn’t matter if those practices don’t work well. They’re “the way we’ve always done it.”)

How can leaders inspire every member of their organization to embrace the new culture, to demonstrate desired values and behaviors and practices? These three approaches will help.

First, set the context. Tell them why you’re making this culture change. What is it about the industry, the marketplace, your customers, and/or the opportunity that demands a shift in the way your team or company operates? Tell the story and define the path towards the high performance, values aligned culture you require.

Second, define the new rules. Tell them what the new rules are. Clarify the team’s purpose, it’s reason for being today – from the perspective of your customers. Formalize performance standards by defining what an “A+” job looks like daily. Formalize values standards by defining values in observable, tangible, measurable terms. Explain that the rules apply to everyone in the company, top to bottom.

Third, align players, plans, decisions, and actions. Show them how to live these new expectations; model the new behaviors in every interaction. Teach them how to live these new rules through your new valued behaviors. Hold people accountable. Promptly recognize aligned effort & accomplishment. Promptly redirect mis-aligned activity. Keep at it, every day – celebrate, coach, refine.

Your old dogs will have to choose: embrace the new direction – or separate themselves from your team, finding roles in other companies. Either way, you’re team or company will evolve.

Care to comment? What is your experience with old-timers holding on to old ways? What did your best bosses do to inspire aligned action and behavior? Share your thoughts about this post/podcast in the comments section below.

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Add your experiences to two fast & free research projects I have underway. The Great Boss Assessment compares your current boss’ behaviors with those of great bosses. The Performance-Values Assessment compares your organization’s culture practices to those of high performing, values-aligned organizations. Results and analysis are available on my research page.

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S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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Reader Interactions


  1. AvatarWade Stanford says

    Great post Chris!! Totally agree with the idea that old-timers don’t actively fight a new direction but simply nod their head and continue doing what they have always been doing. I have seen this time after time in education. They tend to think if they can last six months, the energy will be lost. But you are right on spot, leaders can overcome by: celebrate, coach, refine!! Keep inspiring us with your insight!!

    • S. Chris EdmondsS. Chris Edmonds says

      Thanks for your comments, Wade! These old dogs are in every industry!

      Leaders can only generate a high performance, values aligned workplace if they persevere, inspire, and hold everyone accountable for performance & values.



      S. Chris Edmonds  MacBook Air & iMac

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