10 ways of changing your culture through self-awareness

Steve Glaveski

Steve is an innovation consultant, keynote speaker, author, blogger and podcast host. He is the co-founder of Collective Campus, an innovation hub, school and consultancy based in Melbourne, Australia that works with organisations of all sizes to help them adopt the mindset, methodologies and tools to successfully explore new business models and disruptive innovation in an era of rapid change.

Did you hear about the manager who always shot the messenger whenever they brought bad news? He eventually stopped hearing bad news. Unfortunately for him, this wasn’t because there was none to report.

This is an anecdote that Dave Gray, co-creator of the Culture Map, shared in a recent episode of my podcast.

Sound familiar?

Such calamities are all too commonplace, particularly in a workplace where we have grown accustom to looking towards leaders for answers and certainty. Unfortunately, today’s business environment is far too uncertain and fast changing for any one person to have all of the answers.

It is becoming apparent to all and sundry that a cultural change needs to take place in order to support behaviours critical to innovation and change. Think challenging the status quo, rapid experimentation, customer empathy and calculated risk taking.

Yet, when it comes to cultural change, we tend to think holistically - big, ambitious campaigns that are supposed to bring everybody along for the journey.

But the first step that you can take today, particularly if you’re a leader with influence over others, is to become more self aware of your own behaviours to avoid becoming the proverbial manager who stopped hearing bad news.

Self awareness is defined as having a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. It allows you to understand other people, how they perceive you, your attitude and your responses to them in the moment.

So how does one become more self aware in the workplace?

1. “I know that I know nothing” - Socrates

Showing some vulnerability and acknowledging you don’t have all the answers and need to collaborate with others to reach great heights goes a long way. When you think you have all the answers across cross-functional lines and varying areas of expertise, it can only result in one-sided conversations, frustrated employees and limited outcomes.

It’s important that you encourage the challenging of your ideas because others may see, know, feel or do things that you haven’t which all bring a unique perspective to the table.

2. Don’t shoot the messenger

If people come bearing bad news, consider it not a threat but an opportunity to learn and grow and respond accordingly. Apply what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset under which “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

3. If you want something done right, empower others to do it

The Internet is littered with images encouraging people to do things themselves if they want things done right. The problem with this approach is that people aren’t given an opportunity to learn by doing, through smart failures that foster self improvement - key entrepreneurial traits. If your people aren’t empowered you essentially become like the butter on toast, spread very thin.

4. “Be impeccable with your word” - Miguel Ruiz

The first of Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements stresses that everything we say, do, express, think, feel and project has the ability to influence not only our own behaviour but that of people around us. Jealousy, fear, envy and frustration are not being impeccable. To inspire others we need to be careful how we carry ourselves and especially careful not to say one thing but do another.

5. Do your bit to create an environment of ‘no fear’

As human beings, we have an innate fear of retaliation, punishment and humiliation, which according to Harvard Business Review, all lead to dissatisfaction and lower productivity levels. But not only that, if we operate from a position of fear, we won’t speak up, take risks or think boldly enough to move a company forward.

According to Jeff Bezos of Amazon: “If you swing for the fences, you’re going to strike out a lot, but you’re also going to hit some home runs.” It’s how we respond to the strike outs which can be the difference between a culture of fear and one of no-fear. Progressive companies like Intuit celebrate failures because every failure teaches something important that can be the seed for the next great idea.

6. “I have not failed, I’ve just found 1000 ways that won’t work” - Thomas Edison

When a staff member comes to you with an idea or a suggestion, do you see yourself as the go/no-go decision makers? Or do you ask them to find a cheap, effective way to test their idea and come back with some numbers with which you can then make a decision? Experimentation is key to not only coming up with new innovations but also limiting the expense on flawed pursuits where decisions are made from a place of leaders thinking they have all the answers.

7. Respond with reason, not impulse

Thanks to the amygdala, the two almond sized nuclei within your brain which react to a disturbing event 15 times faster than you become aware of the same event, we tend to overreact to the world around us and respond with impulse, not reason.

When seemingly disturbing or negative events unfold, take three deep breaths, dissect the issue logically and respond in a way that is conscious of your and others emotions. Such an approach means you will also be less likely to engage in distancing yourself, cutting off communication or giving people the silent treatment. Emotion often distorts reality - become the watcher of your emotions and you are more likely to become a better leader, communicator and person.

9. Be mindful

How many times have you driven or walked somewhere and arrived at your destination without remembering the journey? It’s because your mind was no doubt occupied with the past, the future and anything but the present. By being more mindful of our surroundings and our present moment, we are more likely to think from a place of calm and clarity and act accordingly.

10. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” - Stephen Covey

Be empathetic and stand in the shoes of fellow employees - and everyone you cross paths with. You are more likely to have more impactful conversations and generate better outcomes, particularly when it comes to developing new products for customers.

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