9 Keys To Driving Cultural Change

After years of little growth, command and control management, and cost-cutting, the cultures of many organisations need rejuvenating and tweaking in order to thrive in today’s difficult and increasingly competitive business environment.

But, changing culture is difficult. As Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, wrote:
The hardest part of a business transformation is changing the culture – the mindset and instincts of the people in the company.
So, what are the keys to driving cultural change?

1. Clearly Define the Culture: Define the new culture clearly, fully explaining the attributes of the culture and the acceptable behaviour in the new culture.

2. Communicate Communicate Communicate: Through teaching and training of all employees communicate the expected cultural change and the resultant change in values and goals.  Communicate in large settings, small groups, and one-to-one, if need be.  However many times that you teach and train about the new culture, some team member will be hearing it and understanding it for the first time.

3. Leadership Example: As the leader, embody the new culture in your actions, words, and behaviours.  Anything less will be perceived as hypocrisy and lack of commitment to the cultural change. If you want to create an improved customer service mindset, then be customer-oriented and customer-focused yourself.  If you want to develop a safety culture, then wear your seat belt, act safely, and don your personal protective equipment (PPE) when need be.

4. Relentless Follow-up: Along with the communication, continue with relentless and on-going follow-up, support and encouragement. Start every meeting discussing the progress towards the new culture.  When managing by walking around (MBWA), clarify and confirm with employees throughout the organisation their understanding of the new cultural mind-set. 

5. Create Conditions to Align with Culture: Change the physical environment to reflect and allow for the acceptance of the new culture.  If teamwork is the theme, re-arrange the office to induce better teamwork; if safety is the theme, spend the money to make the physical conditions in the office, the factory or with the service vehicles safe. Likewise, align the incentives to match the culture. Evaluate all employees on their performance and alignment with the new cultural values and goals.

6. Share Good and Bad Examples: Share the success stories about individuals or teams that have fully embraced the new culture. Also, share the failures; describe the times when you or others did not live up to the new values and goals. Admitting your own mistakes as a leader in this case is especially powerful.  When appropriate, bring in examples from other companies – sister companies, competitors, companies in the news, etc.

7. Involve the Individual: This is probably the most over-looked element of cultural transformations.  Involve the employees, encouraging their new ideas and thoughts and putting them into practice.  When appropriate, have individual employees teach and/or evaluate each other (always through positive and constructive comments). With safety, I have seen behavioural – based safety observations be effective. 

Further, weekly safety statements from individual employees who become experts on one specific topic and write up a statement or teach the group are also useful.  Any involvement of the individual employee in the change gives them a stake in realising the cultural change.  Ken Blanchard says it well:
 People often resent change when they have no involvement in how it should be implemented.  So, contrary to popular belief, people do not resist change, they resist being controlled.

8. Accountability: Once steps 1 – 7 have been in place, there needs to be accountability.  Reject those employees who do not accept or want to accept the new cultural values and goals.  If they do not fit with the new culture, then they will just be an impediment to the full implementation of the culture.  And so, they must be asked to leave the company.  This is often tough to do, especially when the employee is a valued employee, but it is necessary.

9. Patience and Persistence: As Lou Gerstner said above, any cultural change involves changing the mindset and instincts of each person in the company.  This does not happen overnight.  So, patience and persistence is required to continue down the path for the one to three years it will often take to realise a full and complete cultural change in your organisation.

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