There are many different ways that corporate cultures react to change. Change in this context is an external force, such as technology disruption, the ‘acquired’ company in an merger and acquisition situation etc.

So far I’ve identified 4 main mentalities that block new learning:

– Not Invented Here – it didn’t come from us, so it isn’t any good
– Already Invented Here – we already do whatever the ‘new’ thing and can’t learn from anyone else
– Analysis Paralysis – we’ll study the thing that might cause change to death, but never actually do anything about it
– Head in Sand and March Right On – what change? Why change? Our way or the highway…

Now the most interesting thing is that for the many examples of why these mentalities are bad and have ‘damaged’ the company in through lost opportunities; there are also examples of how they might have saved the company from being ‘faddish’.
These culture responses are defensive mechanisms, and need to be treated as such. It’s hard to reward the culture you want and the culture you don’t when sometimes they might overlap depending on the situation. Sometimes, just sometimes, ‘not invented here’ for example might be a good thing.
So how then can we really help our culture to embrace a change (assuming the change is a good idea)? Here are some suggestions:

For Not Invented Here Types:

– Think about the end game with these folks. What is it that they hold precious, that is invented here, and how could the proposed change strengthen it
– Fight on the periphery. Attacking the core will leave you wounded and bruised from a major immune system reaction. Instead plan a guerilla strategy. Chip away at the boundaries.
– Use influence models for persuasion, don’t try to pull hierarchical stunts that will only give people more confidence that the proposed change is wrong

For Already Invented Here Types:

– Dig deep into what they already have. Understand and acknowledge the achievements so far, and then start suggesting very small improvements.
– Express high praise at what they have already, and explain how you’d like to extend their model, make it a company standard etc, with opportunities for others to strengthen their work and make changes
– Can use hierarchy here. If the bosses’ boss thinks it’s a good idea – Already Invented Here types will think it too.

These are just some suggestions for now on the first two types. I’d be interested to hear of any examples of how these ‘mentalities’ may have affected your company.

(Republished from Friday October 1 2004)