By Chally Kacelnik and Sam Robinson
Dissonance sounds like a bad thing, something you’d want to avoid. We say that dissonance is crucial for creating change.
In LKS Quaero’s leadership programming, we talk about constructive dissonance:
- All change creates dissonance
- Changing behaviour is the result of resolving dissonance
- If there is no contradiction between what people expect and what happens, then there will be no change
What does this mean?
To achieve culture change, leaders must introduce changes to behaviour, systems and/or symbols that create dissonance. That is, to affect culture change, you need to shake things up a bit; people need to know that things are going to be different. That means that the changes must introduce some contradiction between what people expect and what actually happens. If there is no dissonance, people will continue to believe what they already believe.
In other words, if people see the same old thing, then the culture won’t change. On the other hand, if they see something different, they must resolve this difference (i.e. make sense of it) and come up with a new mythology (assumption or narrative) to explain it. Changing behaviour in a team is the result of resolving dissonance.
To be effective as a leader, you need to understand (not argue with) the current mythologies or stories in your team: how your team members perceive themselves, each other, you, people in other teams, the site they work on, the organisation as a whole, etc. You then need to intervene using behaviour, systems, and symbols as needed to get a different result.
In creating change through the introduction of new systems, symbols, or behaviours – or changes to existing ones – you will create dissonance, which in turn will have an impact on mythologies and values.
You’ll need to be sure you’ve really understood the current state, mythologies, and values in your team in order to get this right, however. You don’t want to send the wrong message entirely or throw people into chaos rather than dissonance. Dissonance should be constructive and productive, which means choosing your method in accordance with the amount of trust and understanding that has been built.
We help our clients to use analytical tools, such as a values continua analysis, and planning tools, like the A3 Plan on a Page, in order to get this done right. And it is critical to get change done right, lest you usher in more negative mythologies through a false dawn and reinforce a negative, unproductive culture.
Harness the power of dissonance to create genuine and lasting change for your organisation. We enjoy helping our clients to do this well.