Given the volume, velocity, and complexity of change, every organization must transform to stay relevant to its employees and customers. Learning and Development leaders are often called to the forefront of cultural transformation and are asked to lead it. A critical element of transformation is cultural transformation's adaptation to new ways of engaging people, leveraging resources, and developing products and services. Cultural transformation is a complex process that requires a deep understanding of the various schools of thought or approaches that have influenced it. This article will explore the three most effective approaches to cultural transformation and their impact on organizational change; the humanistic, behavioral, and systems approaches.
The first approach to cultural transformation is the humanistic approach. This emphasizes the importance of the individual in the process of transformation. It focuses on empowering individuals and fostering their personal growth and development. Abraham Maslow is one of the most famous humanistic psychologists, and in 1943 he gave us the well-known hierarchy of needs. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is often depicted as a pyramid. It defines the various human conditions, ranging from physiological, safety, and belonging to esteem, cognitive, and aesthetic, with self-actualization at the tip of the pyramid. According to Maslow, individuals begin addressing their needs at the base of the pyramid and continuously strive to climb up the pyramid. Some have criticized Maslow's theory because it posits that humans must achieve one level in the pyramid before they can advance to the next.
Additionally, humanistic theorists believe that people have the potential for self-realization and that cultural transformation can occur when individuals are given the tools and support they need to realize their full potential. The humanistic approach to cultural transformation has significantly impacted the field, particularly in leadership development and employee engagement. You can use humanistic principles to develop training programs and coaching techniques focusing on upskilling, empowering individuals, and fostering personal growth. Using the design and delivery of a digital upskilling program as an example, you would apply the humanistic approach if you offered your employees a digital competency skills model, a self-assessment, and a report, showing each employee their strengths and opportunities for improvement and path to get there. When programs leverage humanistic approach elements, they have been shown to increase employee engagement, productivity, and job satisfaction.
The second school of thought on cultural transformation is the behavioral approach. John B. Watson's paper published in 1913, "Psychology as the Behaviorist views it," is considered pioneering in the behavioral approach, which emphasizes the importance of behavior change in the process of transformation. The behavioral approach focuses on identifying specific behaviors that need to be changed and developing strategies to modify them. Behavioral theorists believe that anyone can be trained to behave in a particular manner or deliver specific business outcomes if given the right tools and conditioning. In this approach, cultural transformation can occur when individuals are given the tools and support they need to change their behavior.
The behavioral approach to cultural transformation has had a significant impact on the field, particularly in the areas of organizational change and performance improvement. You can use behavioral principles to develop change management strategies and performance improvement programs that focus on changing specific behaviors. If we continue with the example of the design and delivery of a digital upskilling program, you would apply the behavioral approach if you offered your employees curated digital upskilling learning pathways and opportunities to complete their learning and put it into practice. Programs that leverage behavioral elements have been shown to improve organizational performance and drive cultural transformation.
The third school of thought on cultural transformation is the systems approach. This approach emphasizes the importance of the broader organizational context in the transformation process. Ludwig von Bertalanffy is considered one of the pioneers of systems theory. Bertalanffy is best known for his approach to open systems, whereby traditional closed systems models were too limited and limiting in explaining larger, interconnected systems and phenomena. Systems theory focuses on the interrelationships between different parts of the organization and the impact they have on each other. Each system bears specific boundaries, is affected by the context in which it exists, is defined by its formation, function, and role, and is expressed through its connections with other systems. Therefore, through collaboration and synergies, a system is "more than the sum of its parts."
The systems approach to cultural transformation has had a significant impact on the field, particularly in the areas of organizational design and change management. System theorists believe that cultural transformation can occur when the entire system is aligned and working toward a common goal. The systems approach to cultural transformation has had a significant impact on the field, particularly in the areas of organizational design and change management. You can use systems principles to develop organizational structures and change management strategies that focus on aligning the entire organization toward a common goal. In the example of digital upskilling, you can define an enterprise-wide goal of the percentage of employees that will have completed their digital upskilling learning by the end of the year and invite all business units to strive to meet that goal. Again, programs that leverage systems approach elements have been shown to improve organizational effectiveness and drive cultural transformation.
Cultural transformation is a complex process that requires a deep understanding of the various approaches that have influenced it. The humanistic, behavioral, and systems approaches have all significantly impacted cultural transformation efforts, each emphasizing the different aspects of the transformation process. In the context of learning and development, elements of all three approaches can be applied to foster cultural transformation for learners and their organizations. As seen earlier in the example of designing and implementing a digital upskilling effort, you will use elements of humanism when defining the competencies and skills your employees need to become more digitally adept. Next, you will leverage behaviorism elements when you offer motivators such as badging, recognition, and better remuneration to employees who complete their digital skills learning and start applying them on the job. Finally, you will be adopting elements from the systems approach when you recommend how the organization and each business unit can support the employees' newly acquired digital skills with access to better hardware and software tools, better strategic alignment, and opportunities to grow. By understanding these different approaches, as a Learning and Development leader, you can design and deliver effective strategies for driving cultural transformation through learning programs to achieve long-term organizational success and robust business outcomes.
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