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The Wheel of Change - Achieving Lasting Culture Change Through Behavior and Results

By Dave Silverstein

Achieving a specific change, like becoming a world-class business in the area of quality or innovation, does not just miraculously happen. It requires a purposeful process focused on results. Change, like other processes, consists of a series of steps, each of which take time and must be followed in order.

Many people have asked me what the real goal of implementing Six Sigma or Lean is, and what the change process for these initiatives actually looks like. This remark from a Six Sigma Champion sums it up best, "I hear that Six Sigma is about culture change, but all we really seem to be doing is talking about Black Belts, Green Belts and their projects. What does that have to do with culture change?"

Great question, but one not often addressed in popular literature. We can answer the question with a simple model. Picture a wheel with three labeled points: (1) Change Behavior, (2) Experience Results, and (3) Change Culture. Now, consider the three possible points of entry - behavior, results, or culture change - where should you start?

Well, results take time, effort and investment. So does real and lasting culture change. That only leaves...changing behavior. Can we simply agree one day to do things differently? Yes, we can, but it will not be easy. It takes a very deliberate, concerted effort to decide to do things differently. We cannot sustain a hard, conscious effort forever either. Eventually we will revert to our old habits, unless...our new behavior produces reasonably fast results, which in turn drives a culture change. This culture change will cause us to do things differently on a permanent basis.

We all know that change isn't easy, so how can we create the series of repeated experiences that produce the culture change that drives the behavior and results that we want? We must first start with what we can control - our own behavior. If you're an executive, this means participating in creating the vision of where the business is going, and visibly supporting the people you need to make it happen. If you're middle management, it means enabling your people to succeed through education and hands-on training. If you're an employee, it means owning the power you have to make a difference in the organization.

Once everyone has begun to understand and practice behavioral change, the next step is to support it with results. Throughout my career and personal life, I have found that the most effective way to sustain change is by successfully repeating experiences. It is the reinforcement through repetition that will lead to lasting change, either behavioral or cultural. Likewise, for Six Sigma, Lean or even innovation, it is the repeated positive impact of successful projects that will help drive and institutionalize change in your company's culture.

While you cannot change your culture overnight, you can start to drive results through successful projects. By repeatedly delivering results, everyone involved in the projects, supporting the projects, benefiting from the results, or merely observing the results will come to appreciate the tangible benefits of your Six Sigma, Lean, innovation or other performance excellence program. Through the experience of repeated success, the culture of your organization will begin to change.

There is one more dimension of the model that I want to elaborate upon - the wheel. Why not just a circle? The wheel represents the forces at work. A large wheel at rest is difficult to get rolling. You have to put in a lot of energy to overcome the inertia and resistance that is keeping the wheel at rest. However, once in motion, keeping the wheel rolling is easy, you just periodically have to add a little bit of energy. That is the wheel of change; it's very hard in the beginning to get things rolling, but once the wheel is in motion, it's easy to sustain. In other words, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Related Articles:

But That's the Way We've Always Done It
Change is inherent in business. Unfortunately too many businesses are not good at recognizing when to change. And in many other cases, the people within the organization hold the business back by not wanting to change.

A Leadership Guide to Managing Change
Leaders play a key role in managing change. Effective managers help find and crystallize future direction, set expectations for behavior and performance and priorities, walk the talk and influence the direction of future systems and procedures.


Breakthrough Management Group International (BMGI) helps organizations around the world systematically improve processes and increase innovation. For more about BMGI's corporate onsite services, visit For open enrollment training, visit

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