Using Symbolic Actions to Signal Changing Expectations

Are you grappling with the mammoth task of cultural transformation in your organization? Or are you looking at smaller scale changes, but still not feeling you have found just the right approach?

As you capture the last few days of summer, we thought it might be fun to look at tackling this heavy subject with something on the lighter side. In their Leadership & Organization Blog, McKinsey & Company recently had a post entitled Elephant in the room: making a culture transformation stick with symbolic actions. As you might imagine, they describe the successful use of toy elephants by a leadership team to help employees get comfortable with the candid conversations they felt would be necessary to bring about change.

There is a widely held view, and it is reiterated here, that the leaders within an organization should choose a few symbolic actions to signal that cultural expectations are changing. Putting a rubber elephant on the table is that kind of symbolic action – it lets people know that the difficult topic at hand will be tackled, not left unaddressed.

As you consider the use of symbolic actions in your own organization, McKinsey offers three simple steps for you to follow:

  • Define the purpose of and audience for potential symbolic actions.
  • Brainstorm symbolic actions,
  • Review and prioritize ideas.

This article is fun to read, but it also makes some very valuable points. It might be just what you need to get an elephant or two off your boardroom table.

To read the full article, you can go to https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/the-organization-blog/elephant-in-the-room-making-a-culture-transformation-stick-with-symbolic-actions