Which Critical Few Behaviors Drive Cultural Change?

| By TMA World

It can seem impossible to change an organization’s culture, but Kristy Hull – advisor to PwC’s strategy consulting business – puts the focus on changing a critical few behaviors (also known as keystone behaviors).  These behaviors are “patterns of acting that are tangible, repeatable, observable, and measurable, and will contribute to achieving an organization’s strategic and operational objectives”.

The behaviors are critical because they have a significant impact on performance when adopted by large numbers of people.  They are few because people can only remember and change 3-5 behaviors at a time. Hull recommends a four-step process:

1. Know what you’re trying to accomplish: Where are you trying to make a difference, e.g. creating greater alignment with strategic priorities.  Defining the end goal(s) helps identify the specific critical behaviors.

2. Define behaviors that will contribute to the goals: A behavior is a habitual way of acting – the norm or expectation. It is not a one-time action, policy change, or an attitude or mindset.  To brainstorm behaviors, Hull recommends asking: “In a future state in which we’ve achieved the goal(s), what would people actually do (or do differently)?  Having brainstormed a list of behaviors, the next task is to review them – are the behaviors specific, repeatable and ideally applicable to everyone at all levels/roles.

3. Prioritize the critical few behaviors: This can be done by plotting behaviors on a simple chart:

Behavior Prioritization Framework

It will always be a judgement call about prioritization.  If a behavior has very high impact and difficult implementation, would a moderate impact behavior with easy implementation be a better choice?  It will depend on the strategic and operational objectives of the business.

For implementation the prioritization criteria are:

  • Actionability: Can people perform the behavior?
  • Visibility: Will people be able to see others performing the behavior?
  • Measurability: Can you measure objectively if people are performing the behavior? 
  • Speed of Results: Will performance of the behavior deliver results in the short-term?
  • Ease of Implementation: How easy/difficult will it be for people to perform the new behavior in the present organizational environment?

For impact there is only one prioritization criteria:

  • Difference: Will those performing the behavior make a difference toward achieving the strategic and operational objectives.  As Hull says, “Ultimately, the best choices for the critical few behaviors are those that will move the needle furthest on the strategic and operational objectives of your organization.”

4. Validate your choices by getting input from both formal and informal leaders: A physical or electronic voting process could be used to validate priorities.  Authentic informal leaders (AILs) should be used as well as positional leaders.  AILs are people in the organization without formal authority yet demonstrate influence with their peers or teams.

Formal leaders can help finalize the plan of action. Both formal and informal methods should be used to spread the behaviors, and a few key metrics identified to evaluate adoption and impact. 

At TMA World we increase the momentum of change by focusing on the critical capabilities your people need to drive and sustain change. 

Contact our team to discuss your diversity program and to find out how we can support your change process.