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Simon Terry • Lead Culture Change From the Outside-in

Posted on by Brandon Klein

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?” - David Foster Wallace

In a recent twitter chat, the question was asked “Why do organisations decide to change their culture?” At first I thought that was obvious, but on deeper reflection I realised the answer wasn’t always clear cut.

Culture, which is a pattern of predictable behaviours in a group of people, can be like water to fish. The patterns are so predictable we often can’t see them. Inside a culture, all the pressures are to conform.

Leaders who see the need for change in culture in an organisation do so because they are connected to and embrace external perspectives. Through their exposure to the world around the organisation, they can see:

externally pressures for a change such as the feedback of competitors, analysts, customers, community, regulators, etc the organisation has to respond to new norms that are being adopted in society, the industry or other organisations better practices are in use by other managers externally and could be leveraged the attractive aspects of other cultures to the talented people leaving to other organisations or to the disgruntled people in your own organisation; or the different mindsets an externally appointed CEO or group of managers might bring.