Leading a Cultural Movement within Your Organization

What is a Movement?

We often think of movements as a call to action. But research shows they actually start with emotion. Movements often start with a small group of enthusiasts who have a few modest wins. These small wins are powerful in demonstrating efficacy to nonparticipants and they help the movement gain momentum.

Culture Change Can Be Challenging

For organizations seeking to become more adaptive and innovative, culture change is often the most challenging part of the transformation. This is because it can’t be achieved through top-down mandate. It lives in the collective hearts and habits of people and their shared perception of how thing are done. Someone with authority can demand compliance, but they can’t dictate optimism, trust, conviction, or creativity.

Best Practices

  • Leadership should demonstrate the idea of culture change in action, not talk about it.
  • Frame situations in terms that stir emotion and incite action. Framing change within the organization’s purpose can create desire, and even a responsibility, to change.
  • Demonstrate and celebrate quick wins. Research shows that demonstrating efficacy is one way movements bring in people who are sympathetic, but not yet mobilized, to join.
  • Harness Networks. Bridge groups together to form a larger, more diverse network that shares a common purpose. Social networks are also a great tool to spread ideas and broadcast wins.
  • Create safe havens. If your hope is for individuals to act differently, it helps to change their surrounding conditions to be more supportive of the new behaviors. This is especially true when they are opposing to the dominate culture.
  • Embrace symbols. Construct and install symbols and customs that simultaneously create a feeling of solidarity and define who your organization is and what you stand for. These symbols will help outline the difference between “us” and “them” for movements.

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