Let’s dance: changing the mood music for true culture change

Struggling to get digital culture change to stick? It’s time to turn up the music and let everyone feel good about some new moves, says Clare Morris

Picture the scene: it’s a family wedding (remember those?) and that time of the night when tables have been pushed back and lights lowered so everyone can have a really good boogie.

But the tunes just aren’t cutting it: a hardcore of stalwarts are gamely swaying to the beat while everyone else sticks to their comfort zones.

There’s awkward lingering around the fringes of the dance floor, arms are folded, and anyone under 25 is checking their Snapchat…This DJ needs to switch the track, and fast.

I’ve always found dancing to be an excellent metaphor for the culture within organisations. Of course, culture is a slippery, nebulous concept, especially when you’re immersed in your own.

Skills for Care define it as being about ‘leadership, values, traditions, beliefs, behaviours and attitudes’ but you might find it useful to think of culture as simply ‘how we do things around here’.

So why dancing? Music has magical powers to get people moving in harmony, a goal that is fundamental within our complex care networks. But everyone has their tried-and-tested moves, and though a little tutoring and the odd change of partner can help usher in new techniques and attitudes, getting everyone moving in sync to a new beat – a comprehensive digital strategy, for example – is a real challenge.

As we discussed in our recent LGA masterclass, we’ve all been on the receiving end of culture change initiatives. Posters go up, memos go out, meetings are scheduled…These can all be important steps, but if they’re not reinforced by how people are actually behaving, what they’re talking about and doing, it’s about as effective as playing Uptown Funk to an empty dance floor.

Apathy and cynicism are real barriers to culture change, so there are pressing reasons for paying attention to attitudes and motivations to bring everyone along on your digital journey.

After all, what’s the point of a digital fall detector if it’s never explained to the person who’ll be wearing it? Or a video care phone if carers continue to  check in via voice call? Unless every stakeholder along the chain is on board, your most excellent work to integrate digital technologies will be wasted.

So how do we change the mood music for our teams? For a start by acknowledging both the hard and soft components within culture. The hard elements we might want to consider, especially when we’re thinking about digital adoption and care technology, are those that manifest and influence behaviour in organisations.

Performance systems – both commissioning and contracting systems but also HR; objective setting; appraisals…these all absolutely influence culture and can be used to positively promote a shift. Next, data.

Showing people the impact of what you’re trying to achieve is hugely important. Processes, systems, and policies are all ways that we can hardwire and weave a golden thread of care technology and digital adoption through our organisations. Then, governance: where and how decisions are made.

Now the soft stuff. Leadership is hugely important, but it’s not just those that the top of organisations but throughout, in peer groups, networks…We must think about leadership in a more holistic and inclusive way. Symbols, conversations, rewards…What gets attention? What is incentivised? Sanctions or consequences; what happens if people don’t shift in the way we want them to?

And the stories: those we tell when engaging colleagues or leading meetings. Capturing case studies and videos of service users but also staff is a chance to bring positive narratives.

At the heart of all of this, as ever, is people. Service users, staff, leaders, citizens and practitioners all bring their prior experiences, skills, vulnerabilities and biases to the dance floor.

We have to make it easy for people to do the right thing and those we care for to reap the benefits. Celebrating and sharing change is the last vital step, closing the feedback loop to show everyone the importance of what is being achieved.

Getting the mood music right in your organisation is worth every bit of attention you can give it. 

About Clare Morris
Clare Morris is a former NHS leader and co-founder of Rethink Partners, working with health and care organisations to visualise and implement change for good.
clare@rethinkpartners.co.uk

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