If you want to bring about a cultural change in an organisation what’s the best way to go about it?  Perhaps that’s a question that could fill many books with answers!  Here’s what we’ve discovered;  A top draw trainer has at there disposal the opportunity to engender a mood for change, the ability to facilitate a desire for change, and can provide the vehicle for that change.  

It’s not for the faint hearted, but great trainers can bring about cultural change even in the midst of a very disengaged organisation.  Here are five things they can do for you:

1.  Create a noise.  

If you want to engender a cultural change then you’ve got to get the population discussing it.  What you need is for the topic to be the point of conversations throughout the business.  You need it to be ‘the thing that’s talked about’ in the kitchen, down the corridors and in the meeting rooms.  

The change needs to be controversial enough, front of mind enough, so that it’s impossible for people to hold back.  It doesn’t even matter if the discussion is for or against (and in the beginning it will often be against), what’s critical is that ‘it’ becomes the organisational noise.   

Great training can do this, by delivering interventions in a way that facilitate the following four ideas listed below, plus one other thing.  That extra thing is airtime, time in front of the population.  Not an isolated single hit approach, but a series of interventions that will become the catalyst in creating the noise.  

Our experience is that given the airtime, great trainers can move skeptics into advocates, and advocates into ambassadors of the change. The early sessions will be the most difficult, but as the different groups gain the trainers confidence and trust, a powerful relationship can begin to form around the trainer and their input. 

2.  Engage their minds. 

Cultural change will only be engendered if the trainer operates on a level that truly engages the minds of the people.  Great trainers must throw down the gauntlet and stimulate intelligent contribution from the group.  It’s a delicate but important balance between encouraging terrorism (where the trainer gets gunned down) and engaging the rational minds of the organisation. 

Flat training that feels patronising, or smells even slightly of having to ‘just get through the syllabus’ will destroy any potential of the programme bringing about true cultural changes. The only way to impact at this level is to allow the group to challenge back.  Silent dissent destroys any desire to learn or change, so it has to be surfaced if you need the training to make a real difference in the way organisations go about their day to day activities.  What great training does is allow this challenge, but it makes sure that when it occurs it is intelligent. Belligerent unthought-through blurting will occur especially when the topic is emotive, and will be highly destructive; intelligent engagement of the groups minds will result in the type of challenge that matures thinking and guides future changes. 

3. Clear obstacles. 

Whilst engaging the minds of the organisation and showing invalid grumblings for what they are, the trainer must do everything in their power to deal with valid inconsistencies and frustrations.  If something is genuinely broken then it should be dealt with. Trainers have a unique position of being an ear for the organisation, able to tap into those issues, processes, systems, functions or what ever may be causing frustration within the business. 

Great trainers will take up the challenge on behalf of the organisation and seek to deal with the presenting obstacles that strangle change. Outside of the training room there is a necessary tank commander mindset that is required to push through obvious frustrations and bring about some positive outcomes.  Punching above their weight trainers can help those in positions of power to see what obstacles must be dealt with if the organisation is going to be successful in bringing about cultural reforms. 

4. Show that you are listening. 

Throughout the education programme the trainer can show the organisation that it is being listened too. This is simply achieved by communicating positive outcomes that have arisen directly out of the previous two ideas. They have been engaged intellectually, and that has resulted in things changing that may have been a problem of years.  This creates a self fulfilling momentum that builds on the logic that: "I’ve intelligently contributed to what’s wrong; that has been taken back into the organisation and changes have been made; at last I have been listened to".  Even those who may have been terrorists early on, can begin to see that progress can be made when well thought through challenge is brought into the training room. 

Great trainers will know that presenting some quick programme wins in this way is foundational to any future cultural change.  The more this is done and the quicker it is seen, the greater the potential to bring about new ways of thinking for the organisation. 

5. Build, improve and go again. 

By skilfully facilitating these steps the trainer has the ability to build a unique level of trust and respect with the attending delegates. They are seen as being ‘for them’, rather than ‘against them’, while at the same time being unprepared to suffer unhelpful negative attack.  

With every pursuing intervention great training can build, improve and go again, and with every iteration show the organisation that change is possible and desirable. 

Any organisation that genuinely wants to bring about a level of cultural change should be thinking about the engagement of top drawer training professionals in that process. Yes, there are many other aspects to organisational change which are equally as important in the mix, but wise executives should be thinking about how they engage training to lead cultural change.  Training functions can indeed unlock the future for organisations, if their trainers are good enough to rise to the challenge. 

Download a pdf version of this blog here.


Bob Bannister


Twitter: @bbbannister & @iManage

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