Leverage formal solutions.


Persuading people to change their behaviour won’t suffice for transformation unless formal elements—such as structure, reward systems, ways of operating, training, and development—are redesigned to support them. Many companies fall short in this area.


A law firm tried to professionalize its clubby culture, which clients perceived as inwardly focused. The lead partner group recognized that associates needed more formal mentoring and development. The existing system, in which partners who headed the practice groups conducted all the training, had led to uneven results. So the transformation team created a development committee and put out a call for experienced staff members willing to work with new hires. The team was delighted when a strong group of contributors volunteered and put in the time required to design a robust development program and start engaging associates.

After a strong start, however, the effort faltered; people who had been enthusiastic fell away. Debriefing those involved, leadership identified the problem: No formal mechanisms were in place to support or reward this participation. Calculations for bonuses left development work out of the equation, and although senior partners paid lip service to the “wonderful work” the development committee was doing, they seemed to regard its members as internal volunteers. Once they recognized this problem, the firm’s leaders enacted substantial policy changes, starting with a mechanism the compensation committee could use to take into account the contributions made by those who trained others.

 Leverage informal solutions.

Even when the formal elements needed for change are present, the established culture can undermine them if people revert to long-held but unconscious ways of behaving. This is why formal and informal solutions must work together.