Stand Up to Cultural Bulldogs


Stand Up to Cultural Bulldogs

The managers' grudging acceptance of their roles on the learning councils was just the first taste of the cultural pushback our team experienced that first year ”and still do battle with today. As we've said before, becoming a learning organization is not about technology, it's about changing your culture. Up until the implementation, our team members were working in isolation. We had been planning to make vast changes, but nothing had actually been done yet.

Once Project Oasis was launched, all of that changed, as we expected it to. The project wouldn't have been effective if people willingly went along, because no population goes gently into change. Corporate culture is like a living, breathing entity. It has a certain way of doing things, a balance in its system. When you throw off that balance, you upset the beast .

Within a few weeks of your own implementation, people will begin to feel the pressure of your changes. If you are having any impact on the culture, it will show itself through the loud protests of those most unwilling to change. If you aren't feeling pressure from the culturally rigid, then you aren't pushing the right buttons . Change requires fierce upheaval . It takes control away from people who are comfortable with what's familiar, and it potentially exposes them to failure and embarrassment. For some, this level of change will reduce their sense of authority and mastery over the system. It eliminates their power base and forces them to learn new skills. Many people will fight you rather than risk trying something unfamiliar. If they try the new system at all, it will be with the goal of looking for errors. As soon as they encounter even the smallest complication, they will quit triumphantly and spend the remainder of that hour writing you a nasty complaint about your faulty programs.

In every organization that PEG has consulted in, the mantra "knowledge is power" has been part of the culture. Losing control over one's knowledge can be very threatening .

Assuming you are seeing the first wave of the backlash , stand firm. Even if you have done everything right so far, followed all the steps, and know your plan inside and out, it's easy to falter in the face of loud opposition . There will be complaints, accusations, and hostile exchanges between you and the naysayers. They will write letters and e- mails complaining about the system, find fault with your content, and look for ways to sabotage the courses. They will be nasty, and even though they are a very small minority, they will seem like a huge power structure because they are so adamant in their refusal to change. Those who support you will quietly conform, but those who oppose you will make a ruckus because that's how they get attention. There will be enormous pressure not to implement programs that force these people outside of their comfort zones. They will try to crush you rather than conform. Don't give in to the pressure.

If you invest time and energy coddling the naysayers, you will send the message that those who are against you get the greatest attention and that there are no benefits to change, even if virtually everyone is aware that change is needed. The best way to fight them ”and you do need to fight them ”is to be able to answer their retorts with cold, hard facts. Go back to your organizational research and gather new data that highlights internal success rates and training-industry figures. You will find strength in facts and you will be able to respond to any complaint the naysayers have when you present documented proof that your system works. With the right arsenal of information, you can use logic and truth to combat even the most long-winded complainer.

For example, at Rockwell Collins recently, our team rolled out three new custom courses. Within three weeks, the learning and development team received forty e-mails complaining that the courses were confusing and didn't work. The whole learning and development team was upset and frustrated by the accusations. They considered pulling the courses because they appeared to be failing. But the reality was that in those same three weeks, 8,500 people had successfully completed the new training. The complainers represented only .005 percent of all people who took the course!

The inclination for most people is to bow to the complaints of the boisterous forty instead of recognizing the success of the quiet majority. In most companies, those forty complaints carry more weight than the 8,500 successful completions because they come from the trouble- makers . Don't fall into that trap.

We stood strong against the naysayers. For weeks, team members fielded calls from managers suggesting we scrap the courses we'd rolled out because these forty people couldn't use them. We declined, pointed out our immense success rate, and suggested that the problem was not with the courses but with the users' unwillingness to read the directions or part with their pirated software. We didn't lecture them on the academic relevance of Web-based training; we simply showed them why and how it worked. They couldn't compete with that.

When you are well steeped in your statistics, you will be able to respond to any accusation. Whenever the naysayers spout rhetoric, quote facts. You have to stand up to them or they will triumph. If you give them any ground, such as removing courses they don't like or allowing them to take classroom training in place of an e-learning course, they gain power and change doesn't occur.

After officially launching Project Oasis, we cancelled every classroom course if an e-learning alternative was implemented, and we put a stop to catered lunches for all classroom attendees. That caused out-rage throughout the organization. Free lunch with training had been an institution at Rockwell Collins for fifty-five years . It was at the foundation of the "training as a perk" cultural mentality . Again, team members fielded dozens of calls from irate managers demanding to know what was going on ”which is exactly what we wanted. The goal was to shake things up so that everyone was aware that change was afoot.

Managers who demanded that the learning and development group let their people take classroom training were told the only way it would happen is if they paid for it out of their own operating budgets . A few of them did that for a while, but as soon as they had to justify those expenditures to their superiors, they grudgingly fell in line. The year Project Oasis was launched, the amount of money Rockwell Collins spent at New Horizons computer-training facilities dropped from $880,000 to $8,000. New Horizons did a great job for Rockwell Collins, but we had a better and far cheaper alternative. Now even that $8,000 expenditure is nonexistent.

At times you will feel lonely and frustrated, but don't forget that the naysayers are in the minority and they have only the power you give them. Hang on to your facts and sell your successes. Turn back to your supporters and reinforce with them that you are on the right track. If someone compliments you, tell that person to give you the praise in writing, then save those quotes for use when someone attacks you with complaints.

The naysayers will never completely go away. To date, 4 percent of the Rockwell Collins population still has problems with the system, typically because of their reluctance to reconfigure their PC software or an unwillingness to read directions. Even today, every time our team rolls out a new course or cancels a classroom opportunity, someone complains. But we don't give in to the complainers. We may help them learn the new system, point out their errors, or suggest a tutorial to teach them the ropes , but we do not bow to their demands. This is the only way to change the culture of the organization.