startup fever

Cultural Transformation – Communities Over Tools

During the past few years, whether discussing mentoring programmes or cultural transformation with large corporations, I am faced with a disproportionate belief in “tools”. I think I need to clarify that it is not because as consultants we use tools that we sell tools. A keynote from Frédérique PAIN I organized recently for one of our key customer, confirmed what I’ve been seeing for years: too many French and European companies have a disproportionate belief and trust in « tools » and methodologies. Our common Western culture and history of engineering development and thinking put a strong bias toward reproductible, documented approaches to problems.

But when dealing with people and cultural transformation, tools are far from enough.

I’ve found over the years that transformations only happen when change communities are fostered. To give you an example, I’ve seen a few mentoring tools on the market, whether to help matching mentors with mentees, or to get mentoring pairs to “report” on the progress. But buying the mentoring tool doesn’t make the mentoring programme. In the same way as using PowerPoint is not enough to making a great presentation.

One of my clients has developed internally a mentoring IT matching tool. We worked together on the design, the mechanics so that it would respect the ethics, values and strategy of the programme as well as the culture of the company. This tailored tool is only valid and working because there is a strong mentoring community that has been involved in the design, that has already internalized the mentoring practices, values and postures over the past few years. The mentoring community has reached a critical mass, and is active throughout the year.

So when asked about a matching tool, I usually answer “it depends”. Any “off-the-shelf” matching tool might have very good technical features and a user-friendly interface, but will not be useful if not aligned with the mentoring programme specificities and ambition.

Beyond the mentoring example, if we look at other cultural transformations, again the tools are far from enough. For digital transformation, mindsets evolution is key. Not so much the spread of digital solutions.

For business transformation, understanding of and belief in the vision, willingness to align practices, motivation to change, and developing capabilities are key over the tools that might be used. Now you can say that a consultant might sell you a “method” to gain business transformation, but you never really buy the method. You buy the result, and her method might include some tools but I doubt it can be a standardized approach that will bring success by itself. As do I, all transformation leaders I recently interviewed, always tailor tools to  people and context. But what is even more cenral is to work with change communities that are specifically created and nurtured throughout a transition.

To conclude:

Tools do not maketh the change, communities do

And maybe ask yourself: which communities are supporting the strategic and cultural transformation you are leading?

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Stéphanie Mitrano

Insightful and open-minded, Stéphanie accompanies organisations in their cultural transformation to support innovation and business agility. She is one the few European expert both implementing and doing research on mentoring programmes.