Culture change in organizations requires more than a series of passionate speeches and staff training. Before leaders sow the seeds of change, they need to increase their chances of success by understanding their own assumptions about how or if people change. Whether you are aware of them or not, these assumptions impact the way you implement any change process.

Is change possible? Although they may not say so directly, some leaders harbor a fundamental belief that people don’t or can’t change. Because of that assumption, they operate on the principle that change will only happen if people are forced into it. To get change done, they may articulate the reasons for it, but they also take actions that corner people into change. For example, resource allocations are adjusted such that people are no longer able to operate within the status quo. These leaders also believe that change almost always results in casualties; they operate with the assumption that otherwise good employees might have to go if they can’t roll with the punches.

Adjust your assumptions about the possibility of change. People do change and often embrace it willingly. Ask people if they would be willing to adjust to winning the lottery, and most would do so with great enthusiasm. Even when change is less pleasant, people will adjust based on their world view and how the change is perceived. Leading people through change requires sharing as much information with employees as possible. It also means that leaders have to listen to people’s concerns, be as responsive as possible and partner with them as change unfolds. If people understand why the changes necessary, are able to work through any emotional reactions and trust the people leading the revolution, they are usually up to the challenge.

Is it worth all this effort? Absolutely. A productive garden requires more than sturdy seedlings. You need to remove all the weeds and pests that are a barrier to full development. When you accept that change is possible, you also take responsibility for managing it the right way. Consequently, the organization retains great people and positions them to take on the future challenges that are sure to come. C. S. Lewis knew how important it was to do the fundamental work up front. “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird; it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg.”

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