Even the most stubborn culture can be changed

Bestselling author, psychologist and organizational consultant Maaike Thiecke would like to encourage you with her just-published book ‘Cultuurdingetje, eh…’, several actually. It is difficult to change a culture. An almost impossible task if you are not aware of what you are dealing with.

First heart under the belt: The management style of your leaders, the skills or involvement of your employees, toxic teams, the lack of innovation, obstacles or dinosaurs in your organization are not the reason that all your efforts are in vain. It’s not your fault, nor your people’s. It’s the system.

Don’t sigh now, just read on. Culture is your organization’s DNA. It includes what your people teach each other, share, pass on, it includes all the patterns in your organization. Or as Thiecke describes it: what is in your floor covering and what sticks.

The old culture was once the solution

Mike Thiecke.

Culture is also what gives direction, which prevents you from getting lost every day. And yes, this also applies to the culture you want to get rid of. The annoying thing about the old culture is that it was once a good solution for your organization. And you should be aware of that.

Culture, the DNA of your organization, is much more crucial than individual individuals. You are dealing with a collective or living system. That system and its patterns hijack your people, hijack your teams, hijack entire departments. Therefore, the fresh look of new employees has already disappeared after a few months.

Often you only become aware of that culture when you stumble across it

If you want to change culture, you first have to see culture ‘as something that is completely logical and self-evident in the floor covering and is self-evidently persistent and contagious’, writes Thiecke. ‘You often become very aware of that culture when you come across it. Just like real carpets.’

Why it gets worse first

The ‘flooring logic’ in her book makes it easier for you to understand what’s going on, better predict what will appear when you remove the flooring and what interventions go into installing the new one. Not that it will give you less trouble, but less stress.

If you are in danger of losing something, the fully automatic reaction is to hold on

The starting point: living systems always react to change in the same way, namely with their heels in the sand. If you are in danger of losing something, the fully automatic reaction is to hold on. A collective does it too: resist and go back to the starting point. If you get the impression that it will only get worse, then you are correct.

Also read: Three skills for changing organizations

Second heart under the belt: you can really change a culture. According to Thiecke, to get the right approach, look for three disrupted patterns in your flooring: ordering, bonding and replacement.

Boost your motivation

It sounds a bit vague now, but in her book she gives a lot of tips, useful questionnaires, practical and funny examples. She also describes different, very recognizable cultures. As a manager, change manager or other professional, you can really get started with this.

For MT/Sprout, we put three cultures with disturbed patterns in the flooring in the spotlight, with a possible approach. In this way, your motivation gets a boost again.

#1 Order in a family culture

A family culture in your organization is attractive. It’s nice, you get personal and professional space. As an employee, you are loyal, which is why it is no problem to discuss your private life from time to time hold to set it up. It can all work fine.

In the end, the private agenda always comes first, not the interests of your organization

Things go wrong when that family culture – not to be confused with a family business – gets in the way. If your product or service is not delivered because an employee does not like this region. When people don’t come to a meeting because they have to return a package from H&M to the post office.

When you approach them about performance or absence, they find it uncomfortable. In the end, the private agenda always comes first, not the interests of your customers or your organization. When sociability or personal preferences automatically take precedence over the functional, your organization suffers from disrupted organizational patterns.

Complaints about commercialization

Approach: the recipe is that you will lead with the interests of the organization in mind. You determine the framework, draw out the lines, with which scale, with which resources, you arrange the conditions, you prioritize functional relationships. The rest will just have to follow this, and yes, you too.

You will receive complaints about the hardening and commercialization of your organization. It is no longer cozy, but distant, impersonal. Therefore, it is necessary to clarify the areas where your organization leads and the areas where social interaction is paramount.

The essence of the change is not to destroy all personal relationships, but to ensure that your organization can do what it is intended to do and that this is prioritized.

#2 Connection in a polder culture

The admired polder model can be found in many organizations as a polder culture. Everyone is allowed to think about everything and speak with the underlying idea that you achieve the best together. That staying in the conversation, engaging in dialogue, is the solution to everything.

All that consensus consumes a lot of energy, your people complain about the workload

Things go wrong when your organization becomes slow and viscous, when indecision sets in, when your people start sighing loudly for another round of dialogues and participation. When they become less and less tolerant of each other’s ideas, input, contributions and views.

All that consensus is starting to consume too much energy. Your people complain about the workload because they are in 100 workgroups. Meanwhile, the real work is done by an army of externals.

Also read: This corporate culture creates a more inclusive and diverse organization

Polding as an end in itself

If poldering becomes an end in itself, if poldering is the solution to everything, or if it is used to maintain the status quo, then there is a disturbed bonding pattern. Or as Thiecke describes it: ‘Too much together, too much everyone, too much everything, too much always the same for everyone everywhere.’

Procedure: Exclusion and distinction are allowed. Some people, departments, roles or levels are sometimes just not part of some decisions. Should everyone be involved when it comes to the best treatment for a chronic disease or the most sustainable process for treating waste?

Start with the facts. Who is part of this consultation and who is not? Does this agenda item belong to this meeting or not? To exclude is a mortal sin, writes Thiecke. ‘You will be looked down upon if you do not think along, participate, cooperate or watch.’ At such a time, realize that every little difference you make contributes to a healthier collective.

#3 Exchange in a culture of vitality

A healthy, healthy, vibrant organization where it flows, with healthy, vital, vibrant people. Training, development budgets and vitality programs are arranged for him and her. Internal mobility is encouraged. The gym, the health check, the bikes… are all paid for by your organization.

This new vitality guru mainly leads to frustration

Things go wrong when all that attention is focused on the vitality of individual employees and not on the vitality of the collective. If the new mobility program or the new vitality guru results mainly in frustration. When the healthy people leave because they get too much and can’t give back. Then you have a disturbed exchange pattern.

Procedure: You must reach agreement on what constitutes a normal exchange. It is about the give and take of time, money, expertise, energy, talent, information. An important tool: job descriptions, powers, communication channels, your chain…

Who should bring which information to where, where can you get which expertise, in which places and in which roles should your talent be displayed? All this in a formal way with the organization’s primary mission as the underlying foundation.

corn thiecke culture thingCulture thing eh – This is how you get the old organizational culture out of the carpet. And the new one in‘ is written by Maaike Thiecke. The book is for sale at, among others, managementboek.nl.

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