Changing a Culture

I recently read the book Hillbilly Elegy. It was a sad book in many ways as the author shared stories about the working class American ‘hillbilly’ culture that he had grown up in.  As with every culture there were good things, but there were also many damaging and destructive elements in that culture.  It has been said that this book helps you understand why many white collar Americans voted for President Trump, and I think that is probably true, but I don’t want to get into a political discussion here.  What I would like to talk about is how you might go about changing the damaging elements of a culture like this.

In the book J.D. Vance talks about how many of the issues that play out in their lives are systemic culture issues and how social assistance programs don’t address some of these culture issues – things like it being considered normal to scream and throw things at your spouse when you are arguing. Having more money and education doesn’t really fix these kinds of cultural things on their own, and the book is difficult to read in many ways because of this.  It is discouraging to think that many of our go to solutions as a society might not be as effective as we would hope – but there is light in this book as well. He also talks about what how he has seen change for some and it was always through relationships. He talks about how every person he knew that has been able to break free from the damaging parts of that culture, has been able to do so through relationships with those who have experiences with more healthy cultures.

Now, that was all a very long preamble to say that I think there is a general principle here that we can apply to testing as well.  Some of us work in corporate cultures with things that we want to see changed.  Things that we don’t like and see the usefulness of. Perhaps even things that are damaging for the company.  If we care, we want to see these things change.  However, sometime it seems like our go to solutions (we need management backing – or we need to educate people on this – or we need to nag people about this – or…), don’t seem to be working.

Maybe we need to take page from J.D. Vance’s book and focus on relationships.  It’s a longer, slower, sometimes discouraging path, but if we focus on building open relationships where we can model some of the things we are talking about, perhaps we will be able to be more effective at seeing lasting cultural change happen in our companies. Instead of trying to get management to buy into things so that we have authority behind us, or instead of trying educate people into the right way of thinking, perhaps we need to focus on strong relationships and change the culture one person at a time. Those other things can have their place and we can certainly take a multi pronged approach to changing a culture, but let’s not forget about one of the most powerful tools in our toolbox – sincere relationship building.

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