The Insurmountable Challenge of Changing Culture

So you’ve identified your current company culture and it’s less than desirable. You – as a leader, want to make a change, but given that everything influences culture, where do you start? Is there a quick guide to follow? What should you try and tackle first? Do you even stand a chance? The answer is YES – you DO stand a chance for making changes. It WILL take work and can feel like an uphill battle, but it IS possible. Alignment is always key, execution of the plan is important, but it’s more than that. There isn’t an easy checklist to follow as each situation is different; however careful planning and many considerations are integral to success. The best way to make such a grand change is to take some careful considerations and steps BEFORE doing so. Below are 6 considerations to take pre-culture change:

  1. Recognize what the current culture is and what parts of it you’d like to keep. Typically, you won’t be in a state where absolutely everything is terrible. Which parts are working for your organization? Which parts would you want to keep in place? What programs or policies should remain the same? We can be in such a rush to change that we make sweeping changes without recognizing the good and can essentially “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. Don’t throw the good parts out with the bad.
  2. Recognize the components you’d like to change. What would your ultimate vision be for a good culture? WHY do you think that? THIS question is of utmost importance – make sure you aren’t jumping on a bandwagon or a buzzword. How does a change in culture positively impact your people AND your business?
  3. Prioritize the changes. What changes are most important first? Be sure to not get most important and biggest confused – even small changes can have a large impact.
  4. Consider how you will be sure that you’ve moved the bar. What metrics or outcomes will ensure that you are successful? This should be considered differently for every change or component that you outlined above. One metric (what I’ve historically seen overused – employee engagement) should not be used solely to determine success. Many things play into and influence culture. For example, if you want to incorporate more innovation, how many new ideas are presented per individual? Per team? How many are implemented? How many failed? Are successful?
  5. Consider the execution of the change. How will you communicate this shift to current employees and reward individuals who embody and embrace this new culture? In the example above: Did you consider changing the performance evaluations to reflect that you want more innovation? What about your selection tools? Will the profile of great leaders change? Are there developmental opportunities that help individuals develop their own ideas and present them? Did you consider what types of environments foster innovation? How will you monitor your leadership and teams to ensure they are on board?
  6. Know that it is OK to make mistakes. This is one of the hardest realizations to swallow, but knowing that there WILL be failures and missteps before implementation aids in the process. We are dealing with people, humans who aren’t 100% predictable in a real environment that will not react as you’d like it, despite all the above planning. Recognizing mistakes and changing your approach will lead to more success long-term. Hammering an approach that isn’t working will not.

Culture change is one of the hardest tasks to tackle, but can produce some seriously positive outcomes, if the right components are changed for the right reasons. Being proactive in considering the changes and selective about what changes are rolled out, when they are rolled out and how you are measuring change can make the transition easier. Sometimes drastic changes are necessary in order to maintain the business, but it is important not to lose sight of the fact that culture is a reflection of people onto people. It reflects the people within your organization, their mission and their values onto



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