Leading a change in company culture is no small task, but it is a task worth undertaking. Often described as the personality of a business, company culture drives engagement and productivity. Without the right culture, you risk low morale, poor performance and difficulty attracting and keeping the best people. Changing the culture may be a challenge, but if you lead the change in the right way and have patience for change to happen, you can achieve the culture you want that will support your business goals.
- Start with changing you
Changing the culture of an organisation is fundamentally about changing the mind-set and behaviours of people within the organisation. If you simply tell people what they need to do, they’ll have no real belief in it and it won’t stick. That’s why starting with you is where change really begins. As a leader, you need total belief in the new organisational culture; you need to live and breathe it. Don’t try to bring about cultural change that you don’t truly believe in yourself; it will appear insincere. Lead by example and lead from the front; be visible during the transformation, displaying the behaviours you want your employees to eventually demonstrate instinctively.
- Understand the culture you have
Get to grips with the existing culture within your organisation. This is a huge influence on your strategy for change. You might think you’ve got a great understanding of the company culture, but in reality, things may not be as they appear. As a new leader moving in from an external company, there may be elements of the company culture that are obvious. As an existing leader, you may be so accustomed to the way things are that elements of the organisational culture are difficult to see.
Observation is a great way to assess your cultural starting point. As well as observing the physical space (which can play a role in influencing company culture) you need to see what interactions are taking place between employees internally, and between employees and clients. The emotions your people display are a strong indicator of current values. Belief and passion will about bring lasting change; understand where those beliefs and passions currently lie.
- Define the culture you want
You need to clearly define your cultural goals and expectations in a way that everyone understands. Without understanding where you want to get to, you’ll never know if you’ve made it. Defining your desired company culture will also allow you to create something that aligns with your business strategy. If your business goals and company culture clash, you may have some short term business success, but without the company culture to back it up, it’s likely you’ll be less profitable in the long term.
To engage your employees, your cultural expectations need to be clear and consistently applied. If the person leading the cultural change cannot explain it or apply it, no one else will. It needs to be written down, and it needs to be shared frequently.
- Set your values
You’re asking people to change their behaviours and their way of thinking; that’s not easy, especially if things have been as they are for a long time and the existing employees aren’t used to change. Your values are your code; the guiding principles on which everyone in your organisation interacts with each other and the outside world. You need to create more than words; you’re putting something in place for your people to live up to. “Honesty” and ”integrity” might be great places to start from, but they’re not really values unless you can explain why they’re important to you, how to apply those values and how they can guide decisions.
- Review your hiring process
Recruitment tbat aligns with your culture matters. If you don’t hire for cultural fit, you won’t find the valuable, talented people who want to stay. Aligning your recruitment strategy with culture likely means you’ll need to review and make changes to your existing process. For example, if collaboration is a key value in your organisation’s new culture, you might want to think about how your process could include the team that the potential candidate will be joining. Do you share what your values are during the interview? Do you hold the interview in a location that gives candidates in insight into what you stand for, while ensuring they feel comfortable enough to give a true impression of themselves? As well as relevant experience and competencies, do you ask the right questions to understand their potential for cultural fit? Instead of demonstrating how to begin in the specific job role, does your onboarding process reinforce how important it is for your new starter to become an active part of the organisational culture? If you get these things right, you’re bringing people into the organisation who will immediately embody the right culture.
- Update your policies (both internal and customer facing)
Every standard you have within your organisation that relates to how employees engage with each other and with any and every customer should be a reflection of the culture you want to create. Take Netflix as an example; they value high performance, irrespective of high attendance, so they changed their annual leave policy. The change they made? Well, they don’t have one. They don’t track attendance so they don’t track holidays either; as long as you’re delivering the performance they’re asking for, your attendance is irrelevant. Granted, it’s a bold move, but it’s a perfect example of how you need to live the values and measure the right things to create the culture you want.
- Listen to everyone in the organisation
A cultural change doesn’t happen overnight – it’s hard work and you need everyone to be on board. Update your employees regularly and seek feedback; they may have insight into something you don’t. You may be leading the change, but there are other leaders within your business that employees will be looking to for guidance on their behaviour. Make sure they’re getting it right at an attitude level and not just outwardly agreeing. Cultural change filters down through the organisation so ensure your leaders are setting the standard. You need their buy-in. If you don’t have it, take the time to understand why.
Leading a change in company culture may be a slow process, but with the right plan and commitment, coupled with the right people, you can bring about a change in the culture of your organisation that will continue to drive the business forward for years to come.