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Drive Change Using the Lurk and Listen Method

Image via BelleMedia/

Combine the crisis de jour (fiscal cliff, political scandal, merging agencies, etc.) with the uncertainty common to organization’s experiencing change and it’s clear leaders, managers, supervisors and employees in federal government organizations are definitely challenged. In light of the accelerated pace of change in federal institutions, it is no longer enough to understand the organization at the surface. We must go “beneath the surface” as well. What does that mean? Defining what is ‘beneath the surface” begins with understanding the organization’s culture.

Organizational culture is arguably one of the single most important factors overlooked by the change process. The culture of the organization defines vision, communication, relationships, structure, process, behavior, and strategy. Culture can be elusive, hard to describe and even harder to define.

How Do You Categorize Culture?

Organizational culture is a wild card in the mix of determining the response to change. What is the culture in your organization? Is it a trusting and accepting culture, or is it suspicious and resentful? Is it a culture of tolerance or intolerance? Is it a culture that is concerned for the welfare of its employees, or is it distant and/or aloof to its employees? Or is the culture somewhere in between those extremes? How do you know the answers to those questions?

Response—it’s complicated. The answers to those questions will determine the nature of the culture in your organization. But, determining the best way to answer those questions can be tricky.  The obvious place to begin is to ask questions and interview employees—employees from the mailroom to the boardroom. Then observe.

Lurk and Listen

I like to call it lurking. Lurk in the break room, go to lunch with employees, have a coffee with a colleague, and hang out near the copier—lurk and listen. Listen to what people say and how they say it. There are aspects to culture that are not written down anywhere. These are often the aspects of culture that are critical to successful change implementation. These are aspects of behavior that have become so ingrained in the completion of day-to-day work tasks that if ignored (or unintentionally unrecognized) will derail the best planned change initiative.

Understand culture and integrate the unique cultural nuances (especially those elusive characteristics that “lurk” beneath the organizational surface) of your organization into the comprehensive change process.  The culture within the organization will influence the intensity of your employees’ behavioral reaction to the change and how fast they recover. The result—we can’t necessarily minimize the uncertainty, but we can calm the storm. 

(Image via BelleMedia/

Dr. Victoria M. Grady is an Assistant Professorial Lecturer at The George Washington University in Washington D.C., Principal Consultant at PivotPoint Business Solutions and co-author of The Pivot Point: Success in Organizational Change.

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