From Shook’s Prize-Winning Article: Change Behavior If You Want to Change Culture

John Shook’s prize-winning article on NUMMI explains how, if you want to change a company’s culture, you have to change people’s behavior first.

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In the new Fall 2011 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review, the editors announced the winner of this year’s Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize, awarded to the author of the most outstanding article on planned change and organizational development published by the magazine from fall 2009 to summer 2010.

The winner is John Shook, who wrote about his experiences helping Toyta develop and deliver training programs to support its overseas expansion. “How to Change a Culture: Lessons from NUMMI” appeared in the Winter 2010 issue. NUMMI is an acronym for New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., the joint venture experiment by Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Co.

Here’s the key take-away:

What my NUMMI experience taught me that was so powerful was that the way to change culture is not to first change how people think, but instead to start by changing how people behave — what they do. Those of us trying to change our organizations’ culture need to define the things we want to do, the ways we want to behave and want each other to behave, to provide training and then to do what is necessary to reinforce those behaviors. The culture will change as a result.

This is what is meant by, “It’s easier to act your way to a new way of thinking than to think your way to a new way of acting.”

Shook is now an industrial anthropologist, Chairman and CEO of the Lean Enterprise Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and author of Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process to Solve Problems, Gain Agreement, Mentor and Lead (Lean Enterprise Institute, 2008).

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