"Get comfortable being uncomfortable." -- Navy SEAL philosophy.

Navy SEAL training candidates that successfully navigate the most challenging special operations selection program in the world do so because they find a way to "get comfortable being uncomfortable."

In reality, life in the SEAL Teams is much more strenuous than those initial eighteen months of training, and therefore that mentality must carry. It is part of our culture as the most feared and elite special operations fighting force in existence.

It's a mindset that drives us forward and aids in our ability to successfully traverse the ongoing adaptive challenges we have faced since 9-11. Change is uncomfortable, but we rely on our culture for strength and "embrace the suck."

In the business world, culture often has a reputation as being among the "softer" instruments of management which might lead one to conclude that it's a luxury, something to be deprioritized as a foundation for achieving stellar business results.

This is a misguided way of thinking and goes against the grain of the SEAL mindset and great organizations that place their culture at the forefront of the company's initiatives.

Without defining the culture, how can organizations properly attract and retain great talent? How can they make decisions about their business model, set proper goals, empower and motive teams and of course, navigate inevitable changes the business will face many times throughout its lifecycle?

In short, they can't. At least not successfully. And that's because culture is the single most important enabler of successful and lasting change initiatives.

According to a 2013 survey of over 22,000 business executives by the Katzenbach Center, culture plays a critical role in change management. Key learnings from the data point to the fact that well over half of organizational change management efforts fail because they aren't led using the strengths of the culture while minimizing or fixing the weaknesses.

Some would theorize that for a business to reach new heights and get better results, it must first evolve its cultural experiences in order to drive the team to take specific change-enabling actions; and therefore achieve the desired results. Others will tell you that traditional change management tactics are enough and that the culture will organically evolve as changes are made.

In my experiences building successful companies and consulting with hundreds of organizations around the world, it's actually a hybrid of the two approaches. Companies that work with and within their existing culture to drive change and get better results have more success than those who try to completely change their culture altogether.

Lasting change - whatever the needed changes may be - is born by leveraging organizational strengths and mitigating or improving the weaknesses. It is driven by proactive behaviors and ways of thinking that make change part of the culture, rather than a reactionary necessity from time to time. It is easier to behave your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting.

So how is this done? I use a five-step process that begins with performing a culture diagnostic. This can be done through surveys and employee interviews. Using this data, leaders and managers can better define the strengths of their culture that can be leveraged for change.

Next, the behaviors necessary for the new initiatives to take hold must be define. And those behaviors must remain in line with the culture and beliefs of the company. For example, if the company is overhauling their customer service processes, key employees must begin behaving in a manner that is in line with those new efforts. Then others will take notice and follow suit.

The third step is to align the team with the cause. They must understand the mission and have buy-in to the cause. This starts with senior leadership alignment and consistent communication.

The fourth step is to assign change evangelists and develop employee networks for communication. Change evangelists should be well-respected team members who best exhibit the company values and have a clear understanding of the mission intent. Employee networks should be fun and creative using tools like, social media, newsletters, video etc.

Finally, leaders, managers and change evangelists should use a storytelling strategy for communicating quick wins and keeping the team in line with the progress of the changes. This will emotionally connect employees to what's going on and aid in their visualization of the "win."

No matter what change or transformation efforts you have planed for 2017, don't let culture become an afterthought! Use it!

Published on: Jan 2, 2017
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