6 Guidelines for Creating Real Culture Change

Recently, I shared about the importance of organizational development in creating organizational culture change. This time, I’m sharing six things we can look at that would really drive culture change.

1. A clear strategic vision. Do we have a clear strategic vision? Equally importantly, has that vision been communicated to our people and have they bought into it?

You so often hear about organizations where the board or leadership team goes off to a retreat and comes back with a strategic plan, but they never released the plan to the general workforce. That doesn’t make sense because an organization cannot hit strategic initiatives without the involvement of the people. Organizational development happens when we take that strategic vision and develop a game plan to get people the skillsets to thrive in a culture that supports that vision.

2. Top management commitment. Unfortunately, I talk to too many C-suite folks who think culture is a fluffy thing that they don’t have time for. I even had one gentleman say, “We don’t have a culture.”

That’s silliness. Every organization has a culture, but the real questions are whether or not we’ve been able to define it and whether or not it’s supporting the business.

Top management must be committed for the long haul because changing culture doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, I would argue that our culture is constantly changing. Any time we bring new people into the workforce, and anytime we transfer people to new jobs, we change the culture in the workplace because culture is a fickle thing.

We have to stay committed to not only building the culture we want but also to maintaining it. Both of those could take years to change. So, it takes a group of executives who are willing to invest in the long haul because they know the payoff is there in terms of the company hitting its goals.

3. Embrace the cultural values. One of the biggest things management can do to support the culture is to project and embrace the values themselves. The “do as I say” mentality cannot be allowed in a workforce in which we’re attempting to change the culture.

For instance, if we’re in a machine environment and safety glasses and ear protection are required, it would not be good to see management walking around without those things even if they aren’t operating machines.

The little things like upper management living the organization’s values are what begin to turn the tide for people. When employees see management willing to do the things we’re asking employees to do, that goes a long way to creating buy-in.

4. Identify any systems or processes getting in the way of culture change. One example might be if I was running a customer service call center and told phone operators they were empowered to resolve customer complaints on the first call.

I’m sure we’ve all had an experience of calling an 800 number and having to tell our story five different times to five different people. Say I want to avoid that, and so I tell my phone operators to get the resolution on the first call.

That sounds great until I put a process in place where I bonus my phone operators on how many calls they take in an hour. That’s an example of a process that gets in the way of the culture change we’re trying to make. We have to be vigilant and willing to look at every process we have that might be supporting or deterring us from meeting our culture goals.

5. Get new hires on board. How do we normalize new hires into the organization? I heard a story the other day about a gentleman back when he was dating his now wife. One of the first meals she made for him was meatloaf. He enjoyed a good meatloaf, especially the ends, and was excited.

His then girlfriend cooked up the meatloaf but cut off the ends and discarded them. He was a little disappointed but didn’t say anything. After they had been dating awhile, he finally asked her, “Honey, why do you cut the ends off?”

She said, “You know, I don’t really know. That’s how my mom always did it.”

They got married, and one time at the in-laws house his wife’s mother made meatloaf with no ends. The man said, “Mom, why do you take the ends off?”

Her response? “My mother always did it.”

His wife’s grandmother was still alive and one time he asked her why she cut the ends off her meatloaf. She said, “You know, when I was a little kid that’s how my mom did it. But she did it because we didn’t have a serving tray big enough.”

Cutting the ends off the meatloaf just became a habit, a tradition – but none of them knew why.

That’s exactly how culture gets impacted in the workplace. The dreaded phrase “we’ve always done it that way, but no one knows why” is the kind of thing we have to look for when bringing new hires in. Are we doing things with them because we’ve always done them with new people? Or do we need to change the way they’re brought in and on-boarded to the organization?

Too often, organizations make the mistake of believing that culture change starts at the top only. But top-down change is a never-ending battle because most organizations these days are constantly hiring people. We need the sandwich effect: leaders that live the values and behaviors as we instill those values and behaviors in our new hires.

6. Let go of those who can’t get on board. The final piece in culture change is a bit of a dark side: how we handle people who refuse to get on the train with us, or who just will not accept the culture we’re trying to build.

I believe that if they’re doing their job well, we should give our employees some opportunities to get on the train with us. However, there comes a point where we will have to make tough decisions no matter how good these people are at their jobs. We may need to think about termination if they continue to get in the way of the culture we want to build.

There’s an old saying that culture eats strategy for lunch. I think there’s an element of truth to that – the best laid plans go nowhere if we don’t have the right environment and buy-in from people. We have to be prepared to lose some good people in the short term to make room for those coming in who are willing to go with us to the new culture we’re trying to build.

An organizational development professional is concerned with culture change and all the things that go into it. They’re concerned with taking the business strategy and organizational values and driving them down through every single level of the organization, including those new hires coming in.

That sounds easy until we really think about everything that goes into feeding the proper culture. How do we identify the competencies we want and the behaviors we want to see, and then train and develop our people to exhibit those behaviors and values? How do we package it to show them what’s in it for them if they exhibit the behaviors and values we want?

For many organizations, a cultural transformation is what they need to make the leap from good to great. Download the free self-assessment to start the process of creating a culture that will help you achieve your business goals.

Is your organization ready for a cultural transformation?

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