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Listening is Culture Change

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It’s common to change structure, circumstances, equipment, and information systems and still have people operate in very much the same way. Culture change is a change in the collective point of view. It’s not the things out there that have to change; it’s the point of view of the people who are looking. When Campbell Soup of Canada senior management stood up and spoke with a single vulnerable voice to a large group of employees who distrusted them, they were in that moment seen as human and honest. In that moment, the culture changed from one of non-cooperation, where there was no possibility for working together to a culture of telling the truth, cutting costs dramatically, and having the confidence that they could work out the future together.

Culture change is a vulnerable moment of shifting from one point of view to another. Since it’s our point of view that lets us make sense of organizational life, we are very reluctant to let go of this point of view, no matter how self-defeating or how much evidence there is that it doesn’t work. Such self-defeating points of view years ago include IBM’s’ ‘main frame’ point of view’ and General Motors, ‘We are number one’ point of view, both of which kept them noncompetitive and stuck in the past.

In contrast, Apple Computer’s success in consistently innovating better than their competitors came from Steve Jobs’ consistently pulling the rug on behavior and culture determined by what had been done in the past. Whether a point of view is one that causes difficulty or one that seems vibrant and fulfilling, it’s worth ongoing reflection.

Culture Change is Listening.

A company culture is constructed of the ways people already listen, to each other and to their customers. It constitutes their point of view and all of their opinions. In the magic moments of listening, there is no culture — only possibility, a total void of history. A stuck point of view becomes suddenly malleable and people are free to allow for the possibility of other points of view, new action and new results.

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