Changing a corporate culture may seem like an impossible task! Layers of history, trauma, success, decisions, and personalities collide into a unique formula that comes to define the identity of an organization. But what if that identity has lost its relevance in the marketplace? What if it is encumbering business growth? What if it has created a hotbed of conflict? What if it has become an incubator for passive-aggressive behavior? What if your company was once great but now sucks? Can something so deeply ingrained be changed?
The good news is that by taking the appropriate actions, you can influence culture change in your organization. Let’s drill down into how!
An organizational culture is defined by the values, behaviors, and decisions (VBD) that are perceived by those within the system as acceptable and desirable, as well as the VBD’s that are deemed unacceptable and undesirable.
Since culture represents an aggregation of the behaviors, values, and decisions that have been enacted over time, developing or altering a corporate culture is not something that happens in a trust-fall exercise or inspirational speech. Changing a corporate culture requires significant energy, focus, and a clear vision of the desired outcome.
To start moving the needle, we recommend 5 key action steps:
- Assess: Anything that is going to be changed must first be understood. Culture is no exception. Utilizing formal assessment methods or simply focused reflection, it is essential to uncover the rudimentary elements that make up a given culture.
- Vision: The next step is to become clear about your vision for a desired culture. Ask questions like, five years from now, what does my organization look like on a typical Monday? Get granular with questions such as, What are employees wearing? What do their workspaces look like? How are people feeling? How are customers feeling? What are customers saying about your company to their peers and network?
- Measure: To know what needs altering in the current state, engage in a simple gap-analysis between your current culture and desired state.
- Strategize: With a gap analysis complete, identify targeted strategies and actions that will grow your culture in the areas required and weaken areas that are dragging your culture down. Write these down and create a Strategic Culture Plan.
- Mobilize: This is no doubt the hardest part. Steps 1-4 all occur at the level of mind and cognition. Mobilization occurs at the level of heart and emotion. You can have the best Strategic Culture Plan in the world, but if no one really wants to change or there is not adequate readiness for change, you will get stuck here. Some tips for success at this stage are:
- Share the strategic plan with your people, and mobilize yourself, your team, and your employees for execution.
- Leverage both formal meetings and informal check-in’s to keep the plan alive and moving forward. Accountability is key!
- Align your talent by rewarding your Culture Builders and course-correct and/or remove Culture Drainers.
- Stay the course and continuously address obstacles to the successful execution of your Strategic Culture Plan.
With these 5 steps, you can indeed make a difference. It may feel at times like steering an aircraft carrier in the middle of a storm, but it can be done. And when executed correctly, a culture change can benefit the organization, its people, its customers, and its bottom line alike.
Jonathan Kirschner is the founder and CEO of AIIR Consulting. He is based in the Philadelphia area. As a business psychologist, coach, entrepreneur and technologist, Jonathan is passionate about creating value for leaders, their teams, and their organizations.