Culture Change… Why is it so Hard?

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Joan Devine, Director of Education, Pioneer Network
As we approach the 20th anniversary of the convening of the original Pioneers who came together to start this revolution to change the culture of aging, we often find ourselves asking the question, why have we not gotten further along on this journey?  Well, I am not here to tell you that I have found the answers to that question, as there are as many answers as there are people and organizations who serve Elders, but I can tell you one thing I have learned as I have traveled my personal journey to culture change…it’s hard!!  Somehow, that shouldn’t be a surprise, but it sometimes is.
As I have pondered this question, I find myself drawn to many of the quotes and sayings I have heard throughout my life…those pearls of wisdom. I would like to share a few of them with you.
Let’s start with one of the most popular phrases you hear when you approach the subject of change… If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!  As we know, the model of care we have used has in fact gotten many organizations and individuals some very good outcomes — at least in terms of how we have always defined “good outcomes.” Let’s just say, the surveys were good, residents told us they were happy — or at least they didn’t complain, staff was content…so we must be doing ok, right?
And how about this one.  Because we’ve always done it that way.  Again, it’s what I was taught in school, or perhaps there is a sense of comfort in how I am doing things.  And they seem to be working.  If I rock the boat, I may really make a mess!
And aren’t we all creatures of habit?    I have read that 40% of our daily actions are based on habits, and to change a habit takes 21 day.  That’s a lot of work and it takes me out of my comfort zone.  I like my comfort zone!
Besides being creatures of habit, we are all a product of our environment.  If you’ve been around long term care for very long, you probably came to accept many things as ok about how things were done.  Look at the fact that we were ok for so many years with the use of restraints as a means to preventing falls and attaining what at the time we defined as quality of care.
In order to learn new habits and think out of the box that is the environment and culture that we are a product of, we can look to what we have heard about the first step for breaking an addiction…you have to recognize the problem exists before you are ready to fix it.   In order to fix it, we need to not only learn new things, but harder than that, we need to unlearn the old way of doing things.  We all know that Unlearning and then relearning is hard.  I found a great quote from a gentleman named Andrew John Harrison.  He says, “Unlearning is the process of letting go of old ideas, information and ways of doing things that no longer serve us in the way they used to.” Make sense?  I would say yes, as does most of what we need to do to change the culture of aging.  Things like dedicated staffing, caring for the caregivers, partnering with Elders and families, supporting Elders and those closest to them in decision-making…and letting go.  And I don’t want to let go…it’s hard!
I could go on and on, but I think you get it, so let me share my last little witticism, something my mother always said when I was growing up.  Common Sense ain’t such a common commodity.

So now you know my thoughts about why it is so hard.  That said, we need to overcome all these barriers because the journey is not only worth the hard work, it is a journey we must take, a road we must travel.  Our Elders deserve it, our society needs it.  So let’s roll up our sleeves and start chipping away at all these reasons why it’s so hard and make it happen!

2 comments on “Culture Change… Why is it so Hard?

  1. Sarah on

    You hit the nail on the head. I have been working on this process and boy it’s tough. Old staff do not want change and the energy they carry is killing the dept.

    • Joan Devine on

      Thank you for the feedback. It’s always good to hear from our fellow pioneers! Growing our teams is surely one of our greatest challenges. You might want to check out the April Hot Topic webinar, Understanding the Workforce Crisis – An Introduction to Root Causes and Real Solutions, with guides and fellow Pioneers, Sue Misiorski and Anna Ortigara from PHI. If you are able to join us for the annual conference this summer, there will be a number of great sessions on workforce redesign and team building. Best to you and your team on your journey!

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