How to Change Culture in High-Risk Organizations

Change Culture To Change Outcomes

Change Culture To Change Outcomes

More people die each year in the US from preventable medical errors than in car accidents. Think of it as 2 or 3 jumbo jets crashing every day. Many of these deaths result from dysfunctional cultures. Today’s guest, Bea Bohm-Meyer, of the Bohm-Meyer Group, knows how important culture change is in “high reliability” fields — situations where a mistake can mean death.

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Even when lives aren’t on the line, culture change is often the key to keeping your business off life support.

5 Drivers of Culture Change

There are some differences between “high reliability” organizations (the ones where screw-ups mean death) and others. One is that you must look more closely at “latent risk” — what happens if something goes wrong? Or, as astronaut Chris Hadfield puts it, “What’s the next thing that can kill me?”

Bea Bohm Meyer, on how to change culture in organizations

Bea Bohm-Meyer, on how to change culture in organizations

But other factors are as important for culture change in any organization:

  1. Leadership
  2. Collaboration
  3. Communication (in both directions)
  4. Engagement
  5. Accountability

While leadership from the top is crucial, it is important to remember that leaders exist at all levels. If you want to transform the culture in your organization, look for cultural transformation “cheerleaders” throughout your organization and work with them to make things better.

As your culture is improving, it is important to keep reinforcing the values you are trying to instill, otherwise you risk backsliding.

Understand Your Staff to Understand Your Culture

I was startled when Bohm-Meyer said that “there’s truth in everything”, but I think the point she was making is that whether or not the objective “truth” agrees with how somebody perceives a situation, their truth matters. You can’t discount it, especially if you want them to change.

Try to find out why the person is resisting the change. That can be an important starting place for weakening resistance.

Remember that most employees want to do the right thing. They want to do their jobs well. But sometimes they are in a culture that makes that difficult or impossible. Like the classic example of a patient who dies from an infection because the doctor didn’t wash his hands but the culture was such that the nurse couldn’t remind him. Sounds crazy, but that sort of thing really does happen.

Mentioned in this Episode

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, By Atul Gawande  Fantastic book. Read it!

Tema’s interview with Bruce Croxon, founder of Lavalife

Peter Aceto interview, CEO of Tangerine Bank

What advice do you have on culture change?

Share your tips, suggestions, ideas below.

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  1. Pingback: Edmonton podcast roundup: Feb. 17, 2016 – Seen and Heard in Edmonton

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