12-Step Program for Business Culture

Change management psychology is a hot topic these days within the business world. While there are many hypotheses about the best approach, I’d like to take a look at one of the most successful change management programs ever developed: the 12-Step program.

The 12-step program addresses one of the most difficult behaviors to modify, addiction. It does so by placing an emphasis on building a social network that is honest, collaborative, supportive, and cohesive.

Millions of people worldwide have overcome various addictions from alcoholism to eating disorders using this change management program.

If we take each step and modify it to apply to business (still keeping the integrity of each step), we get an interesting change management philosophy…

12 Steps for Culture Change in Business Management

ONE: Admitting we have a problem that has become unmanageable:
The very first step, and arguably the most important, is admitting you have a problem. We learned from Dr. Tasha’s interview that this level of self-awareness is rare. Then, even if we are internally aware, admitting it publically is far more difficult. This is no different in the business world. Leaders are often afraid that if they admit they have a problem, they will lose ground as a leader… because who follows flaws? Yet, if you have ever listened to the false rhetoric of a lying leader, you know pretending the problem doesn’t exist is far worse than admitting something needs to be addressed. Recognizing the problem gives hope for positive change, whereas pretending a problem doesn’t exist only confirms the problem will remain.

TWO: Embracing that it will take more than just you to restore sanity:
Once a problem has been established, leaders need to take a step back from their ego and embrace help. This could mean embracing the team’s ability to problem solve. This could also mean bringing in a consultant or outside help. But, the willingness to seek help is critical. Really, if you had a handle on it, you wouldn’t be faced with the problem in the first place.

THREE: Relinquish control, understanding you are not in control of everything:
Step three is an extension of step two. In the 12-Step program, spirituality plays a key role as it pertains to the personal struggle of addiction. For business, the key statement is “relinquish control.” Step two states you are embracing help. Once you have added that help, you must relinquish control. For many decision makers, who are used to giving a quick “yes” or “no,” this can be a very difficult process. But nonetheless, help can only help if you let them help.

FOUR: Taking a fearless moral inventory of ourselves:
For a long time, people viewed business practices as cut throat and focused on the “end justifies the means.” With companies like Enron and AIG, ethical business has started to become a big conversation. Of the 49 biggest corporate scandals ranging from 1494 to 2016, 13 were between 2008-2009. This is perpetuated by the information era of customer reviews. If you review your moral inventory, how has it impacted your business?

FIVE: Admitting to the exact nature of our wrongs:
Most business managers fear admitting fault, as they fear litigation. While this is valid, admitting an error can also create redemption from the error. A friend of mine worked for a company that laid off a significant number of employees as part of a restructuring and cost saving plan developed by management. Due to the large number of people, they could only give each person 5 minutes to collect their belongings in order to fire everyone they needed to fire in one single day. While I’m sure someone in the company thought this was a good logistical decision, the after shock was massively destructive. You see, everyone who they kept on staff was selected because they played a vital role in the next phase of the restructuring. The leaders failed when they did not anticipate the moral reaction of the remaining staff to “the carnage” (the name it became known as). Those key people began resigning. Suddenly, the company found themselves with a mass shortage of skilled workers. Had they reflected on their actions and admitted they did not handle the lay offs properly, they probably would have kept many of those considering leaving. But when they didn’t, they sealed their fate.

SIX: Commitment to dealing with defects of character:
People love the saying “no one is perfect” yet they tend to merely ignore the imperfections. This step challenges each person to reflect on their defects of character and actively work to correct them. If you are a yeller, time to work on verbal communication. Or maybe you struggle to voice your good ideas; time to work on being more assertive. Not sure what defects you need to work on? Ask and you shall receive, but be prepared to revisit step one.

SEVEN: Humility in asking for help in dealing with shortcomings:
Step 7 is similar to step 2, but this time you are seeking help for your character and personal development rather than help solving the business problem. Because the saying is typically true…people don’t leave businesses; people leave people.

EIGHT: Making amends with all the persons we have harmed:
Similar to step 5, we are now taking it further. Rather than admitting a wrong has occurred, this step challenges us to take actionable steps to reconcile wrongs. In the example of the company letting people go in a rather disrespectful manner, they could have contacted those they laid off with a peace offering of career help from a 3rd party company for 30 days or arranged for the personal belongings that were not collected in those 5 minutes to be returned. Some gesture after they realized their error to make amends for the very unpleasant treatment they displayed to their hardworking and loyal staff.

NINE: Making direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others:
Let’s say you abruptly shot down an idea from a staff member during a meeting. In addition to apologizing to the group for crushing the collaborative vibe, this step challenges you to take a further step and directly make it right with that specific person. By approaching such conflicts from a stance of an apology and humility, the wronged person is no longer faced with confronting you. Better vibes are instantly restored.

TEN: Continuing to take personal inventory, and when we are wrong, promptly admitting it:
The philosophy of long-term change is one of the most powerful aspects of the 12-step program. Change isn’t something that will happen on a specific timeline. It is a life long culture change within the company and each person’s embodiment.

ELEVEN: Seeking the will power to carry on with these principals:
Step 11 reflects the difficulty of the first 10 steps. Such changes require an incredible sense of self-awareness, communication, humility, and in many ways risk. To admit fault will always have the burden of risk, but the culture reward is well worth it.

TWELVE: Carry this message to others and practice these principles in all our affairs:
The very last step has two parts. One is to share the philosophy and experience with others. The second is to live by this code in both your professional and personal life.


So there you have it: 12-Step program for Business. Do you think this philosophy transcends into business management? Comment below!

Want more on sales culture? Check out 6 Steps to Creating a Killer Sales Culture from the ASG Sales Blog post!

Braedi Leigh