The Number One Ingredient for Culture Change

By: MarkWeaver Monday April 20, 2015 comments

In a time and a society where so many people are change resistant, it’s funny that people think organizational culture change is easy.  Or quick.  It takes a while to change an organization’s culture - not unlike how it would be changing the direction of a large yacht.  It takes time and a little space, but it can be done.

Quality improvement is a great reason to embark on culture change.  So is improved customer satisfaction.  There are many others, including the need to reduce costs, to increase sales, to create a new product line, to fend off increased competition, to reduce turnover, or to improve employee engagement… and about any other business initiative you can think of.
Organizational culture – good or bad - will pass from one generation to the next because it becomes “owned” and reinforced by the whole organization.  So even though people may come and go, the organization’s culture lives on.  Culture change isn’t just a way to make improvements; it’s the only way to makes changes that will last.
The very first step in culture change is demonstrating management commitment.  As Leadership Guru John Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”  This is where it starts; it has to be for culture change to be effective.
Following are 5 ways to demonstrate leadership commitment to culture change – 5 ways that will get attention and let everyone know that leadership is serious and engaged in what needs to change:

  1. Create a Policy.  I don't like having more policies than needed.  Bureaucracies do that.  But there is something official about having a policy - and publishing it - that can add a degree of weight to any kind of change effort.  You can make it clear that the change is real, by being direct and decisive using no weasel words.
  2. Make it Visible.  No point in having an unknown policy.  Print it, frame it, hang it where all can see – like the break room.  E-mail it to all stakeholders – team members, suppliers, volunteers, Board Members – anyone with a role to play that needs to see the new direction.
  3. Memorialize it.  Start with a “Town Hall” meeting where those at the top can lay out where the organization is going and why.  Make it a big enough event, and people will remember when the change started.  Shared history is a great way to build a team.  Give them something to look back on.
  4. Make it Hearable.  Talk about it and get everyone talking about it.  Treckies everywhere can recite the mission of the Starship Enterprise from rote because they have heard it every time they’ve watched the show or the movie.  Make your people that aware of your change initiative.
  5. Make it First.  Have it as the first item of new business on every meeting agenda.  Set the expectation that everyone is going to talk about it first time, every time.
    Organizational culture is shaped by everything the leader says, does, promotes, or allows.  The first time the leader makes light of the desired culture change or does something incongruous with it, everyone will know about it.  But that works in reverse too.  When the leader’s commitment is tested and she says, “No,” and keeps saying “No” each time she’s tested, it will ultimately be assumed that she is serious about this culture change stuff.  When the leader is asked to make a deviation and he uses it as an opportunity to verbalize his commitment instead, everyone will hear of it and know he means business.  So stick to it!  Walk it, talk it, live it, breathe it, and you will be contagious!
    At Open Door HR Solutions, we honestly believe that the right team, united around a compelling vision, can change the world.  We help organizations create vision, culture, and an enviable employment brand.  And we help them find and keep the right team members, part ways with the wrong ones, and get everyone on the team focused on the compelling vision so that your team can change the world.

About the Author: MarkWeaver


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