cultural change

Having a clear and strong company culture has never been more important in the modern workplace. Not only does culture inform a company’s brand identity — its core values and objectives —  having a strong company culture helps to attract and retain better talent and drives down turnover, while also reflecting the demands of new millennial workers.

Corporate culture often develops organically. Forming slowly over the years, it is reinforced and rearticulated by the behaviours of both lower-level employees and management. For an established company, the culture may have originated from the ideals of its original founders and leaders. But where the company has evolved over time, the culture may no longer be in line with the company’s current values, mission and goals.

If the current culture doesn’t effectively support the achievement of the organisation’s goals, and doesn’t consistently echo company values, it may be time for a cultural change.

Driving cultural change is a complex and difficult undertaking for any business. Company culture is an ingrained component of any business — it’s built into the foundations of every organisation and it influences the behaviours of employees at every level. It takes consistency, patience, commitment, time and the use of innovative tools to successfully achieve cultural change.

In this post, we’ll break down the three integral steps businesses can take to drive company change, while ensuring a smooth transition to a new culture. 

Step One: Evaluate Your Current Company Culture

Before setting out to drive cultural change, it is essential to understand and evaluate the existing company culture. If a culture has developed naturally and without clear core values in mind, it may not accurately represent what a business stands for. Many companies have an idea of the organisational values they propagate, but are at a loss when asked to demonstrate how they’re effectively implemented. For example, an organisation may claim to value openness and transparency, but, if many of the major decisions are made behind closed doors, the culture is at odds with the organisation’s activities and processes.

Evidence of a business culture needs to be tangible and observable— only then can companies determine if it aligns with its core values. So the first step is to establish what the culture is through impartial observations of the culture in action. This culture audit should consider all of the organisation’s work systems, including communication processes, pay practices, performance management, interview procedures and employee reward systems. Consider whether each of these practices align with a particular culture and what that culture looks like.

At Clear Review, we recently commissioned an Investors in People independent audit, which provided us with an in-depth understanding of our culture along with its strengths and potential weaknesses (we’re delighted to say that we were awarded the Investors in People Gold accreditation as a result).

Take a culture walk

A culture walk is the practice of actively engaging with the workspace and employees within the organisation. Walking around the office and examining daily operations will illustrate how company behaviours contribute to the current culture.

Begin with the space of the office itself, considering:

  • How is the office laid out? Where do people sit?
  • How are common areas utilised?
  • What is displayed on walls/desks/boards?

If the company values teamwork and collaboration, but employees are segregated and work from sterilised cubicles, it’s a sign that company culture is not being prioritised.

Take the time to talk to employees and take note of any habitual behaviours. You may choose to set up interviews or circulate a survey to collect staff feedback. Consider the following:

  • How do your employee’s interact with one another? Are conversations commonplace or is communication conducted through emails and memos?
  • What is the tone of communication — informal and friendly, or professional or distant?
  • How are conflicts and issues resolved?
  • What is the relationship between senior leaders and middle managers, both with each other and with the broader workforce?

Register emotional responses to tasks and projects. Emotions are useful indicators of what your employees’ value and, conversely, what they don’t.

By collating the information gathered during a culture walk, the existing culture will quickly become apparent.

Step Two: Develop Strategic Direction and Company Vision

The second stage of implementing change is establishing a clear picture of what you want the organisational culture to look like. This means developing a clear mission, vision and set of values from a strategic and value-based perspective.

Begin by asking a series of questions:

  • What are your business’s most important values?
  • Are these values apparent in your existing culture? If not, why not?
  • Do your employees understand, possess and work towards achieving these values?
  • Is your mission and vision clearly articulated and disseminated?
  • What cultural elements can enable change?

Targeting keystone behaviours

Once a clear direction is set, the next step is to identify which areas you will target. The key is to prioritise a few behaviours. All too often, companies attempt a one-off culture change exercise, trying to tackle everything at the same time. However, we shouldn’t underestimate the extent to which the current culture is ingrained in employees’ habits and attitudes. Attempting to transform every system and process will only lead to employee dissatisfaction, frustration and overwhelm. As Jon Katzenbach, the leader of Booz & Company, explains, a few key behaviours can have a disproportionate effect on the success of cultural change.

Identify specific behaviours that have implications organisation-wide. These critical few behaviours, also known as keystone behaviours, are patterns of behaviour that are observable, repeatable, measurable and which have an impact on the organisation’s strategic and operational objectives. These should not be one-off actions or procedural changes, but, rather, the habitual ways of acting that have become a standard for the organisation.

Step Three: Implement Cultural Change

The final step is the most difficult, but most important: businesses need to implement the cultural change. This involves unlearning old values, behaviours and attitudes and can be difficult for employees who dislike change and are adjusted to a set way of working. While you may face resistance from employees, it’s not impossible to implement cultural change successfully.

Lead by example

Successfully changing company culture is dependent upon the managerial style used and it is essential that executives and senior management support the cultural change. In all actions, words used and behaviours executed, leaders should be role models to the broader workforce and embrace the desired values — and even prioritise these values above profitability and results. Where leaders fail to do this (and have been given appropriate support and time to change), they may need to be replaced with people who support the new values. For a culture change to succeed, it must be taken seriously and tough decisions often need to be made.

Clear communication of cultural change  

Cultural change relies on behavioural change, but behavioural change cannot take place effectively if the new culture is not accurately communicated and reinforced to all members of staff on an ongoing basis. Taking the time to ensure that each employee understands and is aligned with the new culture supports high levels of engagement and commitment across the workforce. Training serves to define what the changes mean and the expected behaviours of staff, while focus groups help to translate the company’s mission, vision and values in the context of each employee’s role.

However, communication needs to be ongoing — change doesn’t occur overnight. Channels of communication and dialogue need to be open and consistently monitor the impact of the cultural change. The use of modern performance management software allows employees and managers to collaborate on agile SMART objectives and the unique upward-aligning process ensures that all objectives support the organisation’s overall mission and long-term goals. This type of software also ensures that individuals have ongoing personal development goals that are linked to the companies values which can be reviewed and evaluated by HR and management to ensure that they are align with the new company culture. This way, if old behaviours and habits begin to seep into the workplace, HR and senior management can act quickly.

Provide ongoing feedback

As with any major shake-up, it can take time before everybody is on the same page. Both employees and management may be uneasy in the face of radical change. Transforming mindsets and instincts is not an easy undertaking — especially when these gut reactions and methods have been trusted for so long. Therefore, it becomes essential to provide frequent feedback to employees and offer ongoing support and encouragement as they align to the changing culture.

Continuous performance management software puts ongoing communication and feedback at the centre of performance management. With integrated check-ins, managers can discuss values and culture regularly in conjunction with progress against personal and team goals. Real-time 360 degree feedback enables colleagues to recognise each other when the right behaviours have been demonstrated, and managers to provide instant feedback when behaviours need course correcting. This leads to positive behaviours being reinforced and discrepancies around standards of behaviour being quickly flagged and resolved, both vital to achieving a successful and lasting culture change.

Clear Review provides continuous performance management software to put communication at the forefront of your processes, which is crucial for successfully implementing change in the workplace. View our 7 minute demo video.