Embedding Change in the Organizational Culture

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Strong, long-term change is never complete. Transformation is subject to degradation until new behaviors become rooted into a company’s shared values and norms, which makes weaving change into the fabric of an organization’s culture the final and most critical step of change management.

“Don’t take your foot off the pedal until the plan has been executed and the new way is really part of the culture,” said Helen Cummins, sales enablement leader. “You’ve got to persevere.”

John Kotter, author of “Leading Change,” explains that anchoring change into corporate culture requires the following:

  • Comes last, not first: Most alterations in norms and shared values come at the end of the transformation process.
  • Requires frequent discussions: Without verbal instruction and continuous support, reps are reluctant to admit the validity of new practices.
  • Depends on results: New approaches will usually sink in only after it’s proven that they work and are superior to old methods.
  • May involve turnover: Sometimes change to the make-up of teams is a necessary part of revamping culture.
  • Makes decisions on succession crucial: Promotion processes need to be compatible with new practices, or the old culture will reassert itself.

To prioritize culture, sales enablement can utilize several rep-orientated components of change management to:

  • Measure and monitor cultural progress at each stage of your effort;
  • Help employees through the change process, and create a feedback loop to business leaders and identify points of resistance;
  • Diagnose behavioral gaps and impact on performance;
  • And implement corrective action as needed to motivate long-term change.

Continuously Measure and Report Results

During the implementation of change approaches, it is important that enablement establishes metrics to track if sales reps are actually exhibiting new behaviors. Rigorous measurement provides practitioners with opportunities to identify backsliding and then correct course where needed, as well as demonstrate empowering tangible evidence of improvement—which can help maintain positive momentum throughout the long-term change initiative. Most reps will shift their mindset regarding change only after new behaviors have led to meaningful results—and thereby been validated.

Enablement can also utilize tracking efforts to remind reps of their commitment. For example, enablement can regularly send out a brief survey to managers, asking how often particular behaviors have been exhibited by members of their team. These surveys serve as a new paradigm for honest dialogue and act as a simple reinforcement mechanism.

To embed analytics into change and drive data-informed cultural transformation, enablement should help sales managers and leaders implement clear methods for measuring progress in four areas, as guided by the following questions:

  • Business performance: Are key performance indicators improving? Are relevant growth targets being reached more frequently? What is happening with sales productivity or customer satisfaction?
  • Critical behaviors: Have enough reps and managers started to exhibit key desired behaviors?
  • Milestones: Have specific change milestones been reached? Are people living up to their commitments to KPIs?
  • Underlying beliefs, feelings, and mindsets: Are key cultural attitudes moving in the right direction?

Measurement efforts can quickly become ineffective, time-consuming, and expensive if approached incorrectly. As a result, enablement must select a few carefully designed, specific behavioral measurements in existing scorecards and reporting mechanisms. As transformation programs evolve, practitioners need to work with change stakeholders and executives to re-evaluate and monitor key metrics.

“It’s important to make sure that there are focused metrics and that they are filtered down enough that they make sense,” said Daniel Haden, global head of sales curriculum at Google.

Collect and Analyze Feedback

According to “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath, what looks like disdain for change efforts is often a lack of clarity. Hence, enablement must prioritize informal, community-building interactions to collect feedback and provide reps with crystal-clear direction regarding change.

As recommended in Jeffrey Hiatt and Timothy Creasy’s “Change Management, the People Side of Change,” tailored conversations outside of hierarchical processes are key to reinforcing change management. Enablement practitioners can target communications with reps to where they are in the change process, thereby enabling productive and focused conversations centered on their personal areas of interest or conflict. By creating a feedback loop to help manage reps’ personal transitions and identify common sources of anxiety and concern, enablement can implement the necessary support systems to help relieve pain points.

To uncover useful insights necessary to reinforce change, enablement should explicitly seek out frequent and open interactions with cross-sections of reps—such as by engaging a sales advisory council or facilitating ad hoc networking discussions—to encourage reflection on how they feel about change. In some cases, enablement may need to focus on informal interactions within key subpopulations (i.e. frontline managers), as their behaviors can have a disproportionate impact on the experiences of other reps.

Frequent and open conversations will help practitioners build a rapport with reps, because they demonstrate that enablement genuinely cares about how the change is impacting reps. Creating a feedback loop will better position enablement to unlock faster, more effective change decisions.

“If you can make sure that you’re getting regular feedback from your stakeholders and you’re doing so in a way that makes it easy to interpret what they need—and you can do that on an ongoing basis through programs, then you’re going to be much more successful in delivering [enablement] programs and making sure you change the behavior,” said Haden.

Diagnose Behavioral Gaps and Impact on Performance

With deliberate effort, enablement can help reps understand how the new approaches, behaviors, and attitudes enhance their performance. Left to interpret progress on their own, reps don’t connect the dots between behavior and performance – or they connect them incorrectly. Consequently, it is important for practitioners to diagnose and correct gaps in performance to ensure the dots are connected and that new change behaviors are adopted.

Hiatt and Creasy recommend using the Prosci ADKAR (awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement) model to accurately identify obstacles to change and address the root cause of the gaps.

The ADKAR model focuses on asking the following questions in relation to transformation efforts, to establish what reps need in order to understand and institutionalize change:

  • Awareness of the need for change: Does the individual understand and agree with the business reason for making this change?
  • Desire to participate in and support the change: Does the rep want this change to happen or would they prefer to keep things the way they are? What would cause the rep to want this change to happen?
  • Knowledge about how to change: Does the rep know how to change and the required skills to support the change?
  • Ability to implement required skills and behaviors: Is the rep capable of performing these new skills or acting on new knowledge to support the change?
  • Reinforcement to keep the change in place: Is the rep receiving the necessary support and reinforcement to sustain the change?

For enablement, the ADKAR tool is also effective for planning change management activities, supporting change managers, and developing corrective action because it outlines the goals or outcomes of successful change.

Implement Corrective Actions and Motivate Long-Term Transformation

If gaps are identified and reps are not fully adopting the new way of working, enablement must take action to correct those gaps. When it comes to organizational culture change, leaders too often fall into the trap of only declaring the culture shifts they hope to see. Instead, practitioners need to work with stakeholders to outline the actions and behaviors that reflect the culture the organization hopes to build.

Any successful change requires a translation of ambiguous goals into clear, actionable, comprehensive, and integrated behaviors to guide and accelerate how reps disrupt the status quo. Dan and Chip Heath describe a compelling analogy to help better explain how enablement can approach the long-term game of motivating reps to change:

  • In the analogy, the rider and the elephant represent the two sides of human nature that are often at odds with each other. The rider represents rational, analytical thinking and evidence-based decision making, while the elephant represents emotions, comfort, and instincts.
  • Although the rider appears to lead the elephant, the elephant can easily overpower the rider. The rider cannot simply ignore the elephant; the rider must appeal to the elephant’s motivations in a sustainable way in order to direct the elephant to “bright spots,” where small day-to-day actions become baked into cultural values and result in long-term change.
  • By specifically outlining change goals and corresponding corrective actions that directly point to success, the rider follows the most beneficial, evidence-based approach with the least resistance to change–energizing the elephant to enthusiastically follow the pathway to bright spots.

“The path represents the external environment,” said Anita Nielsen, author of “Beat the Bots”. “It represents the road, the path that they have to take, the steps that they have to take. And the trick with the steps is that you want to make that path as easy as possible because people don’t like to change when there are 8,000 obstacles in their way.”

  • By eliminating ambiguity from change goals and carefully supervising corrective decision-making, the rider has a clear pathway to take and the elephant increases its resiliency.

By clearing the environment surrounding change efforts of obstacles, enablement can help discourage reps from shifting into auto-pilot and defaulting to status quo. Similarly, enablement can implement corrective actions to motivate reps to change their behaviors. Practitioners should consider relying on the following components to help provide unambiguous guidance:

  • Prioritize tasks required for reps to meet change goals
  • Identify high-level steps or attributes needed to accomplish behavioral change in a checklist
  • Verify that reps have met the goal by auditing compliance
  • Set a deadline for completing the effort, and, if relevant, set intermediate deadlines for tasks
  • Celebrate and reward successes to motivate reps and reinforce positive behavior

Targeted long-term interventions, designed around changing a few critical behaviors at a time, can energize and engage talented reps and managers and enable them to collaborate more effectively and efficiently.

If change is at the heart of a growing modern company, then sales enablement practitioners are its pulse. They ensure lasting transformation by continuously evangelizing best practices for reps, and crafting corrective strategies and accountability mechanisms to provide long-term support for adopting change and embedding transformation in the organizational culture.

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