Before we leap into the 7 steps on workplace culture change, let’s start with two questions: What is working in my business/work/life? What is not working? What are your answers about? Are they about systems and processes? Are they about policy and procedures? Are they about people? Or are they about people interacting with systems, processes, policy and procedures? This article is for those whose answers are about people. After all it is foremost people who make or break workplace culture. And yet, great workplace culture does not just happen. It needs planning just like other business activities.
1. Plan the Big Picture
People tend to focus on strategic planning but not culture planning. Strategic planning helps with focusing on the direction, setting goals, targets and actions. Culture planning goes to the essence of an organisation and starts with knowing why they exist. Unless this is clear the organisation with try to move in the wrong direction and create a dissonance with its brand and products. In February we provided the tool to develop Purpose, the Mission and Vision.
2. Measure to get a baseline
Measuring helps to conceptualise how the organisation is perceived by internal and external stakeholders. Measuring can be done in many ways; through interviews, through feedback mechanism or through survey tools. While culture is subjective the perception is that it cannot get measured. In fact it can through organisational assessments! For example Culture Transformation Tools use values to identify personal values, and the collective’s current culture and desired culture. They also measure the loss of productivity due to culture. By ensuring you understand what values people bring to work you can create instant culture fit, providing this culture is what is needed for the future. Employee engagement surveys assist in identifying how employees interact with an organisation and benchmark against industry averages. Just a Note: the comparison is only as good as the standard of these benchmarked organisations. If their standard is low beating the average is low.
3. Define how you want the work
Step 1 is about ‘Why we do the work’ and ‘Where we are going’. This step is about ‘How we do the work’. By setting values an organisation begins its culture planning process. Inputs are the measurements obtained in step 2, information from step 1 and understanding the leader’s values and behaviours (particularly important in a family business or a flat structure). Leaders directly influence how their employees work. With culture change a leaders needs to first ensure they align with the wanted change before they can effectively implement it (Step 7 & 8).
Defining values is a great engagement process. If an engagement culture is wanted this should occur at the latest from this step onwards through dialogue, consultations and workshops.
4. Articulate meaning
Values need to come alive. On their own there will be different ways of interpretation. Meaning making is shaped by individual beliefs formed by cultural, religious or societal norms experienced during childhood. E.g. the value of family is seen differently in a patriarchal society and a more egalitarian society.
Hence, to be effective values need to have meaning in form of a definition. This provides a foundation for understanding, a basis for common beliefs of the norms that become visible in behaviours. Articulating these expectations in behaviour statements communicates what is the norm. The Links at Shell Cove has just recently started a culture change journey. Have a look how they create meaning.
5. Implement consistency
Up to now there was a lot of preparation work. But the crux is in the implementation. Steps 1 to 4 are all great but not achievable if nobody does anything. Implementation means changing the organisation towards its planned culture through aligning
- leadership behaviour with values and expectations,
- systems and processes, policy and procedures with wanted behaviour,
- culture and strategy, and
- people with purpose.
For example align
- recruitment and induction processes to ensure the people have the right purpose, culture and job fit;
- performance management, reward and recognition programs e.g. if collaboration is wanted, rewards need to be based on activities and include all stakeholders, if team work is wanted then rewards need to be team based;
- decision making frameworks e.g. top down decisions will work in a power culture but not in a collaborative culture.
- leadership and management style e.g. a manager after status will be unable to develop a culture of teamwork; creativity and innovation; or full engagement. Their need for status will negatively impact on those around them and inhibit employees behaving in the desired way;
- workplace environment e.g. a cubicle work space inhibits a teamwork culture, innovation or collaboration.
6. Get Buy In
Involving staff from step one creates buy in for the change. By engaging staff an organisation can identify it’s strengths and staff motivation for working at the organisation. Both are essential. The former to tell the story of what will remain the same i.e. an organisation will want to build on its strengths; the latter to understand the extent of purpose alignment by staff.
By involving staff, leaders can tap into the collective knowledge of the organisation. And when leaders listen to staff they increase their trust account. When they implement what is best for the group and set the organisational conditions right they will earn trust. Our May newsletter gives more information. By engaging staff in value and behaviour development there is a sense of control over the change. This control means that staff have a vested interest in making the change work. Hence there is more willingness to develop change capabilities.
But let’s be realistic. Not everyone will be happy. It is also uncommon that everyone will fit into the new culture. The extent of this will impact on making the change stick.
7. Make it Stick
Considering the last point it is vital to realise that during the transition one has to let go of some staff. This should happen in accordance with the new culture norms. E.g. if people are central to the culture then the staff should receive support in finding a new role and transitioning out of the organisation. Letting go of a manager who is not adjusting behaviour is a powerful message for others. In April we talked about individualism creating a business crisis. Individualism based on self-interest inhibits change.
Making it stick is also about ensuring consistency of message in leading the change. It needs a strong lead and will from the top. This is why leaders and managers need to be able to change first both in belief, word and action. If the change needs to happen fast, then change champions can take the role until managers are ready. Generally a tipping point of 30% of employees is needed for the change to spread and gain real momentum. How long it takes depends on the leadership, management, communication, consistency and the tools for implementation.