One of the stand out reasons why organisations fail to move the culture needle is because we don't deal with the weeds, before planting the new seeds of culture that we are seeking.
In organisations, the 'weeds' are often the detrimental behavioural norms that exist. The behaviours that you know aren't right, or helpful, but you see them everyday. It shows up as eye rolling, passive-aggressive conversations and behaviours, undermining, defensive body language, lack of constructive conversations, lack of commitment, and the list goes on.
I speak to many leaders in organisations who tell stories about some of the behaviours that exist, around the boardroom table, in meeting rooms, and in everyday work, that they find either disrespectful or disruptive to the business. My question is always 'Did you say something?' 'Did you call it out?' and sadly, often the answer is no. The reasons given is usually 'I don't have time to deal with it' or 'there are other more important issues/problems to solve'. And I would like to call bullsh*t on that. (Sorry not sorry for my brashness).
It's quite simple really. It goes like this:
"Hey John, I noticed in the meeting you were eye rolling when Jim was sharing his ideas. That type of behaviour is unhelpful and disrespectful - I know this is not like you, is there anything going on that you would like to talk about or that is leading to you behaving like this? (Total time to say something: 1 minute).
The longer you as a leader lets these weeds continue to grow and keep feeding the weeds, by tolerating and ignoring the negative behaviour, the longer it will continue to grow. It also makes it harder to introduce new behaviours that you would like to see while the old behaviours are still permitted to exist.
One of the underlying reasons that people don't call out bad behaviour is that they a) don't know how to in a way that is respectful, b) don't want to hurt someone's feelings, or c) they know they behave like this too, and don't want to look like a hypocrite.
One of the simplest ways to be able to start these conversations is with a clear set of values, beliefs and behaviours that you as a team, and as an organisation, commit to modelling. When these are made clear, and people are committed to these, it makes it easier to have a conversation when the opposite shows up.
It goes like this:
"Hey John, I noticed in the meeting you were eye rolling when Jim was sharing his ideas. We've all committed to being respectful to our colleagues and what this looks like, and eye rolling is not on the list. What do you think it will take for you to shift this behaviour and uphold the value of respect?"
When people see that bad behaviour will be called out, it makes people think a little more before they act and also gives them an opportunity to reflect. Some bad behaviour can often be subconscious - people not even aware of their actions because no-one has ever pointed it out in the past, so be gentle and kind in your approach.
1 Learning: When you are trying to plant new seeds of behaviour, you have to address the weeds that exist in order for the new behaviours to grow.
The whakataukī (Maori proverb) for this is:
"E ngaki ana a mua, e tōtō mai ana a muri" First clear the weeds, then plant.
1 Opportunity: Have a look at your organisations values and behaviours. Is it clear what good look like? Are they explicit in the way they describe how it shows up at work? Where do you see the bad behaviours show up the most? Is it in meetings? Is it in email? Is it in 1:1 conversations? Take the time to get clear of what behaviours you are looking for in your team, and have a conversation about what this looks like and then be ready to address it immediately when it shows up. Encourage others to do so to.
1 Action: If you notice unhelpful or negative behaviour this week, have a conversation with the person and point it out. Listen to their response, and offer to help them work on it.
It takes courage to do this, but you know that's part of being a leader. It's also one of the kindest things you can do for the people you work with. And you never know, the 'Johns' of your organisation might just stop the eye rolling.