Three decades ago, I came in direct contact with Dr. Albert Bandura, one of the founding fathers of Social Learning Theory. He was a wise man, always willing to share ideas, research and knowledge. Bandura heavily influenced my thinking about human and organizational change. Ever since, I have been experimenting in concrete organizational settings with the empirical propositions of the Social Learning perspective.
On the other hand, the other morning, at a very important Pharmaceutical Industry Association Forum of Competitiveness, there was full acknowledgement and a richly discussions of the need for companies to look closely at the challenge eliciting working culture change. At a session, where we were addressing how to do exactly that, a participant asked: how can organizations modify the behaviors of its employees in a healthy and constructive way? That very same evening, at a lively private session with twenty five top and distinguished physicians the same questions was posed to me.
So, I remember the formulations of my dearest professor and went to elaborate. Behaviors have to be viewed always as interactional, meaning as part of a process between people, rather than the individual. The persistence of behaviors that you may want to change have to be interpreted as a result of its ongoing maintenance of present circumstances, or formal or informal structural arrangements, rather that of an exclusive enduring individual disposition. My direct answer to a very relevant question was that BEHAVIOR CAN BE CHANGED BY CHANGING THE INTERACTION (FORMAL AND INFORMAL) THAT IS CURRENTLY MAINTAINING IT. Further more, this also signifies that AN INDIVIDUAL’S PROBLEM OR BEHAVIOR CAN BE SOLVED OR CHANGED BY CHANGING SOMEONE ELSE BEHAVIOR.
The interactional perspective of the social learning theory always points to the interrelated behavior of two or more people instead of just one. This is a crucial proposition. Organizations obtain the behaviors that are induced or tolerated by the patterns of their interactions, as manifested in very concrete settings and circumstances. If you want to modify behaviors or change a work culture you have to alter the structure of interactions. If not you will keep the status quo.
Some of my friends say “we think we understand, but can you give and example?” Here was the example.
1. The more the supervisors aggressively approach employees, the more they will resist.
2. The more the employees resist and voice their concerns, the less aggressiveness on the part of supervisors.
3. The less supervisors act in an aggressive manner, the less resistance and voicing of their employees.
4. The less the resistance of employees, the more aggressive supervisors become.
5. The more supervisors act in an aggressive manner, the more the employees resist.
Thus, situation #5 equals situation #1 and this is the status quo cycle, which a change venture will have to break.
The above situation lends itself to a social learning analysis to behavior-culture change.
1. The aggressive approach is a selective stimulus for the employees resistance.
2. The resistance and the voicing are and aversive stimulus that suppresses the aggressiveness.
3. The removal of the selective stimulus diminishes the resistance.
4. The removal of the aversive stimulus (not doing anything) increases the frequency of the in-built or codified tension within the organizational culture.
Later, I will elaborate more on viewing working relationships in terms of whether the pattern of exchanges between participants is similar (symmetrical) or different (asymmetrical, hierarchical or complementary), and the implications for culture change.
But good readers please remember this short and core conclusion: A person’s problem or behavior can be solved or modify by changing the interaction between two other people. Organizational design endeavors is about structuring new patterns of interactions for producing quick, visible and dramatic results. The conditions that support the launching of a collaborative interactional change effort are the following: 1) Share the urgency of change; 2) Belief that the situation can change; 3) Be willing to trust the process; 4) Activate learning and practice new collaborative skills; 5) Focus on extraordinary goals; 6) Expand leadership cadre; 7) Commit to meaningful stakeholder inclusion; 8) Orient toward competitiveness and information; 9) Develop project teams and change agents; 10) Cultivate outside process consultants and practitioner who dare to speak truth to power; 11) Integrate time, financial, technical, and political resources.
Copyright 2008 QBS, Inc.