To encourage change, businesses must change their culture

Managers should not only reward successful risk takers, but refrain from punishing them when they fail.

Businesses that best adapt have leaders with a clear vision of the future, employees with sense of ownership in the company, and near unanimity in the organization of the need for change.

Karen Brodbeck will talk about how those elements work together — and how to develop them if they don’t exist — at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s Monthly Members Luncheon.

The program will be from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 9, at the Courtyard by Marriott, Downtown Springfield.

Brodbeck, with the Springfield firm Strategic Leadership Solutions, said she teaches problem-solving techniques to business leaders in the 40 or so seminars she presents annually.

But she added that how effective those techniques are and how well companies adapt to change “is based on the culture they have.”

A company with a leader who must always be in charge, doesn’t delegate well to employees, and in which “everything’s going up the chain of command,” likely isn’t going to adapt as well, she said.

Nor, she said, is one whose workers “are really complacent,” see no need for change and have “that entitlement mentality” about their jobs.

Brodbeck said one organization she worked with “that was ripe for change” was a small manufacturing firm that had seen the shop’s ranks thinned by job loss from overseas competition and feared more was on the way.

But even in those circumstances, she said, the right things have to be done.

“From the leadership you need to have vision. you need to have a sense of where you want to go,” she said.

Nor is having the vision enough.

“That leader needs to be able communicate it to the employee base,” she said, and “the components all have to work together.”

Even when the right conditions exist, she added, “a culture change doesn’t happen overnight.

“It’s something you have to build,” Brodbeck explained, “and it’s probably a good three- to five-year process” — one best started with “baby steps.”

“Fix a little problem first,” she said.

Because “success breeds success, we look for some good wins up front, and then tackle the biggest, ugliest problems down the road.”

Along the way, it’s important to build toward that future.

“So when somebody makes a small improvement on the job — which saves some time, which increases profitability just a little bit — you recognize that person, you communicate it through the organization,” Brodbeck said. “If you want people to take the initiative, you celebrate success.”

“You also have to be careful not to punish failure,” she added.

“If someone takes a risk (in an attempt to change) and you ding them because it doesn’t go perfectly, that’s going to be the last idea you’re going to get” from that person.

The focus when things don’t work, she said, has to be “what did you learn” in the process.

“It’s all about creating that culture,” she said, “a culture of working together and moving forward.”

Brodbeck said the recession has provided the pain that motivates many to change.

“You were forced to change or you didn’t make it,” she said.

But other companies “as long as they’re making money” can “settle into a false sense of security,” she said.

In those instances, “I usually start asking what their pain is,” Brodbeck said.

That often can reside in chronic problems they’ve grown accustomed to but can still be annoying.

“They have to recognize there’s a problem before they venture into that change process.”

Even that, though, doesn’t lead to smooth sailing.

“Companies can waste a lot of money on problem-solving” if they don’t recognize habits and patterns that can get in the way. Brodbeck said.

“That culture has to be in place. You start laying groundwork. That’s where this seminar comes from.”

“We especially liked this topic because it emphasizes the role a leader plays in creating an effective culture in a company,” said Kelli Mori, the Chamber’s director of communications.

“According to a member survey we are currently conducting, leadership is the number one topic” of member interest in the Chamber’s monthly programs.

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