Beware the culture change bandaid

Motivational posters can be a useless culture change bandaid unless part of a broader campaign.

Changing behaviour is hard. Many managers miss the point when trying to change employee behaviour by spending their budget on posters and beautiful videos – as a culture change bandaid. Real and sustainable change comes from open dialogue and engaging stakeholders. These conversations are difficult and require Emotional Intelligence, management commitment and follow-through.

Getting employees to increase productivity, utilise their discretionary effort and align their behaviour with strategic goals is the key challenge of Employee Engagement.

Beware the culture change bandaid

Motivational posters, beautiful videos set to popular songs and lapel pins can be a small part of a multi-layered change strategy, but on their own they are more likely to increase disengagement. Change requires buy-in from employees and this does not happen if the change is dictated or employees feel the attempt is insincere and a pretty bandaid (poster) is being put on an infected wound (culture). The infected area needs to be cleaned out before the bandaid will work effectively. In fact, to extend the analogy, a bandaid over an infected area will often make the wound fester, rather than fix the problem. The bandaid approach is likely to increase cynicism and dissatisfaction.

“If they’re part of a broader campaign, with clearly outlined goals and a commitment from management, they may have some impact. But a motivational poster alone is like a drop of rain in the ocean.” K. G. Brown (Associate professor of management and organisations)

It is an issue of integrity and congruent communication. Posters which speak to the values, vision and behaviours the organisation wants to encourage can be a great way to augment the communication strategy. Unfortunately if the behaviour of management does not “Walk their talk” it can increase cynicism and resistance to the change. Have you ever been to an organisation with wonderful posters showing their vision, mission and values? What was the behaviour you experienced in dealing with their staff? Unfortunately in practice the behaviour does not always align with the espoused values. The behaviour we experience is a product of the culture and what gets rewarded in the organisation.Beware the culture change bandaid

Despair.com sells a range of “de-motivational” posters mocking their ultra-sincere counterparts. The fact there’s an entire business that satirises the motivational industry shows there are many people who think those posters are a laughable culture change bandaid. When there is a disconnect between what we read in the ultra-positive posters and the action and behaviour in the organisation we are more likely to believe the behaviour.  Change management requires communication and stakeholder buy-in not window dressing.

Remember to beware of the culture change bandaid. Posters and slogans are ineffective unless part of a large change strategy. The most effective way to change culture is increase buy-in and walk your talk.

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Richard Riche

Engagement and communication specialist at One Clear Message
Richard specialises in helping you build real human communication skills.TED style speaking and presentation skills, Emotional Intelligence skills, Employee Engagement/Experience, building high performance teams and a great place you want to work. One Clear Message offers training, consulting and coaching.
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