Management Matters: Microlevers™ small moves for big workplace culture change

In this month’s column, I am turning to how to use small actions to greater, better, more joyous, more engaged work cultures. Dynamic, healthy, and appropriate organizational cultures and climates lift morale, which in turn increases effectiveness, in turn creating an even healthier culture and climate. Difficult and dysfunctional cultures and climates work in the opposite direction, dragging down results and diminishing morale.

Leaders often think of culture change and improvement as a huge undertaking requiring significant organizational lift, and involving extensive plans, hundreds of meetings, and big expenditures. Well, it does help to have a vision, a strategy, and a set of goals that define the desired culture, but culture change is also enacted at the micro-level in small acts, minor adjustments, and microlevers™.

Figure 1: The OPG Good News Gong

OPG helps our clients get going with culture change by encouraging them to implement microlevers immediately; start doing things and acting differently, and the culture will follow. First, we ask abundance leaders to reflect deeply on their personal values and the changes they want to see in the world, not just in their organization. Then they can begin to manifest those values and vision inside their organization with small acts and changes — what we call microlevers.™

What is a microlever™? A microlever™ is a practical, nitty-gritty tactic implemented visibly and consistently. They have impact in and of themselves, but they also serve as a signal to the organization. For example, OPG has a “good news gong” in the middle of our open atrium space. The gong is rung whenever a contract is landed, when the firm achieves a major goal, when a staff member has good personal news to share, or when any other good news, worthy of sharing, happens. When the gong is rung, everyone comes out of their office to the public space   to hear the news.

Microlevers™ are small acts with big signaling impact – small steps or actions that tell people, “Things are different here.” Or “things are getting better.” Or “you matter.”

Figure 2: The OPG “share your travels” shelves

OPG works with our clients to figure out the right microlevers™ for their organizations, and we help them take the first steps now to change their organization’s culture. For more on microlevers, check out our series of short podcasts (about five minutes each) at OPG Inspire Podcast.

Here’s another example of a microlever™: put a blank flipchart up in your organization’s common area. Write “topics for next staff meeting” at the top. Add below that, “Please put your name next to anything you list so you can help lead the discussion.” Put a magic marker nearby. See what happens. Add to it. Now use the list as items on the next staff meeting agenda. You should see higher engagement of staff and more transparency.

Get the idea? Small acts. Big returns. Micro-levers™.

Tips and questions for moving forward

  • Paint a wall with whiteboard paint so people can co-create.
    Figure 3: The OPG “who are you outside of work” gallery
  • Create a wall on which people can hang or post pictures of people and things outside work that matter to them(see Figure 3)
  • Post your meeting norms in every room.
  • Flatten your hierarchy and distance between staff by “chopping wood and carrying water.” In modern terms, as the leader, this means washing the dishes, cleaning off the table, and otherwise stopping to help with the mundane tasks of organizational life.
  • Have everyone in the office wear nametags when a new person is coming on board.

If you have a specific management or leadership dilemma or question that you’d like addressed in this column, please feel free to email me at lfreebairnsmith@orgpg.com.

About the Author: 

Laura Freebairn-Smith  is a Partner and Co-founder of Organizational Performance Group (OPG), a management consulting firm that believes people and their ability to work together are critical to the success of your organization. She holds an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Systems. She has taught as faculty and guest lecturer at Yale, Georgetown, Central CT State University, and the University of New Haven. She was formerly the creator and Director of the Organizational Development & Learning Center at Yale.

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