In the first segment of this two part article series, we examined some criteria to help identify culture hotspots and make the determination if problems exist. In this second part of this article, we will explore a bit about attempting cultural transformation.
Introducing Changes To The Culture
Changing an organization’s culture is a daunting feat. That’s because the culture of an organization is comprised of many intricate and interconnected parts, including corporate strategy and related strategic goals, job roles, business processes, core values, communications practices, corporate attitudes and business policies. These component parts are woven together into the cultural fabric and cannot be changed in isolation. Instead, they must be addressed holistically.
Consider the culture that exists in the current day environment of any organization. Just as water running for ages over rock will cut a path that channels swifter currents, culture wears its own path through the business, manifested in policies, business processes, job roles, communication practices and corporate bureaucracies. It is a part of the organization to the extent that any small attempts to introduce change will be swept away by the stronger current of institutionalized cultural rituals learned and practiced for so long. That’s not to say that culture transformation cannot be successful, only that it won’t be successful without disruption to the normal course of things. Change must be introduced to all of the elements affecting culture. There is no single action to be taken, but instead, an orchestrated regimen of small and large steps that will help break the rut and allow new flows to open.
But if the culture is to be changed, what does the target look like? The business’s core values play a key role, influencing its social mores and the underlying “organizational consciousness” 1. The vision and strategy of the company also provide many of the answers to what a desirable culture should be. Even the organizational structure affects culture. For instance, tall hierarchical organizational structures foster different behaviors than flat models. Determination of the desired future-state of the cultural to a large extent relies upon the business vision and strategy, which will drive needed structural changes and other business transformations that will affect the culture.
Aiming for performance excellence
Culture does affect performance, therefore the goal of tampering with culture in the first place is to influence the organizational ethos towards one of performance and excellence. Most executives would submit that we want the associates in our business, among other things, to be:
- highly ethical
- focused on creating value for our customers,
- conscientious about avoiding waste,
- dedicated to providing fanatical customer service,
- involved, responsible and giving citizens in the communities where they live.
Corporate leaders must model this behavior themselves. If cultural change is sought, executives must do more the talk the talk…they must also walk the walk.
A transformation process: change starts at the top
In the article, A Fish Rots From the Head, it was asserted that the executive leader’s personality, traits and beliefs collectively form a signature that is stamped into the organization’s social fabric. The conduct of the organization’s leader truly sets the tone.
To illustrate through a couple of examples, let’s examine two very different companies and cultures. In one client organization, the focus of leadership was intently honed on improving financial performance, service and employee culture. Yet in the environment, many inconsistencies existed. For instance, executive-level floors had the restrooms cleaned at a ratio of 6:1 times more frequently than others in the headquarters building. This did not go unnoticed by employees on non-executive floors. The policy was intended to save dollars in facilities management costs, but it backfired. Unclean employee and public restrooms caused consternation and anger with workers, not to mention embarrassment to the company as visitors witnessed the untidy conditions and complained. The mis-guided policy sent a signal that executives were “above” others in the company and would be treated differently. To some extent, that is always the case and is accepted to a degree. Regardless, the negative impacts to employee satisfaction and a healthy culture were immense. Conversely, in another organization, the CEO moved all executives into interior offices to allow employee cubicles to get better natural lighting. In this same company, the CEO was known to help an employee carry heavy boxes containing copies of an important proposal at the down to the parking garage and help load them into the employee’s car. Two simple gestures, but those types of actions clearly send a very different signal to workers and have an equally strong impact of culture. The actions of the CEO said volumes, indicating, “I want you to be happy in your work, to succeed with this organization and to help us achieve our goals by being a valued member of the team, therefore I will do everything I can to help you.”
In addition to leadership committing to championing culture change, many areas of the business likely will face makeovers – such as job role changes, business processes that must be altered or realigned and communications practices that must be improved to help cultural change take hold. Based on organizational model changes and related process impacts – communication will be effected, as will decision processes and process latency expansions or constrictions. These must be well understood, expected and planned. Most importantly, employees will be impacted by change. Communicate the goals of change to employees and include them in the process by connecting goals to each person’s day-to-day work.
Lastly, expect that changes will be disruptive. The good news is that disruption will help the organization break free from the well-worn patterns that currently hold it in place and increase the speed of transition to the future-state culture.
1 – The term “organizational consciousness” was taken from Jana Evans (no relation to the author, Mr. Joe Evans). Her website URL is http://www.evansplanninggroup.com/