Is meaningful and lasting corporate culture change possible? Yes. Here's how!
It takes genuine buy-in from the executive leadership and a strong understanding of the current vs. desired corporate culture. If these fall into place, culture change can indeed not only happen but revolutionize a company.
Perhaps you are ready to learn how to change corporate culture? We have been working with clients for whom the process of culture discovery was a real eye opener. Realizing that employees wanted a different type of culture that was more innovative and supportive of risk-taking, leadership found themselves wrestling with deep and important questions:
- What type of ingenuity and individual empowerment would be accepted and encouraged?
- How would they choose which processes could be modified or improvised upon? What did it really mean to become more ad-hoc and empowering?
- How could management become more skilled at relaxing some rules? Would production and compliance wither?
These are difficult discussions to have for any group of people who work together, let alone a corporation with an established track record of success. Questions of power, responsibility, trust and teamwork take on entirely new meanings when examined in the context of intentionally changing the culture of a corporation.
Exploring the 10 Steps for Culture Change
At Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), the process we encourage management to use is based on identifying how to encourage their brains to discover new ways of doing things. Transforming an organization is never simple, even when everyone in the room agrees on the direction and need for change. Regardless of the people or the process, behavior modification and culture change take time and effort.
Some of the best work on this topic comes from Marcella Bremer. Two of my favorites are: “Organizational Culture Change: Unleash your Organization’s Potential in Circles of 10” and "Positive Leadership, Culture & Change Collections." You would also enjoy "DIagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture" by Kim S. Cameron and Robert E. Quinn.
Changing Corporate Culture is Tough
Think about what you are going to have to do. Visualize the culture of the future. Then begin to change the people and the values, beliefs and behaviors. Here is a 10 Step Process that tries to make it more understandable and manageable. Give it a shot and don't stop. It is not a "gig." It is a journey. You can take a toxic or failing culture and turn it around so it can soar.
10 Steps to Change Your Culture
To achieve true, lasting culture change, here is the 10 Step Process we use with our SAMC clients:
- Visualize first. We begin the work of culture change by asking everyone on the team to visualize their company’s future culture. This is a powerful first step to begin to realize what we have up to this point only been talking about. What will the new culture actually look and feel like? How will people interaction? To unlock ideas, one activity we like to use is an Innovation Game® called “Build a Better Product Box” (read more here) but the specific activity is less important than the act of visualization.
- Identify small wins. When initiating the change process, celebrating small wins is important for morale and for identifying specific instances that illustrate the culture change that’s beginning to take hold. We encourage teams to find examples of things that are easy to change, change them, and then celebrate. Doing this over and over with small, successful steps will build momentum.
- Generate widespread support. Getting everyone involved is important for two reasons: humans need positive reinforcement to support sustained change and getting everyone involved (not just early adopters) builds and empowers teams of supporters of the change.
- Build in follow-up and accountability. Create time frames for completion of changes, design follow-up and reporting events, and stick to the plan. Don’t let change be vague “someday” events that are open-ended. Teams will respond to managers and colleagues’ tangible, visible commitment to the goal.
- Provide information, visually if possible. Share as much information as possible on a regular basis and as broadly as possible. If there is no information or “progress” story, employees will make one up (which is often negative, not positive). Stories and pictures are better than words alone and have a powerful impact on our brains. Using visuals to show expectations and encourage success is a proven tactic.
- Figure out what success means and celebrate it. We all need to know how we are doing in the midst of making a change. Identify criteria that will indicate success and figure out a way to track and report it. Instigate a data gathering system and a time frame for assessing results. This is important throughout, but doing it early and often in the process is critical.
- Expect resistance to change. We know change is hard, and being ready when resistance crops up may prove essential. Communicate to staff at all levels how the changes are going, invite questions, anticipate push-back, and above all, emphasize the disadvantages of not changing.
- Explain why. When people know why the change is necessary and that it came from their own process and decision-making, they typically stop resisting as strongly. Showing respect and understanding for the people making the changes will go a long way.
- Hold a funeral. Ritual can be a powerful process. Sometimes in the process of change, it is important to stop something that people are connected to — because it reflects the value of their efforts in the past. Respect that effort, even as it goes away. Holding a funeral for things that the group needs to let go of is a way to celebrate the past but also underscore the ongoing transition to the future.
- Implement symbolic as well as substantive changes. Symbols convey what is most important and are an effective shorthand for visualization, reinforcement and communication in a memorable way. Identify those symbols that signify the new culture that’s being established and utilize them in as many ways as possible.
Want to watch a video on Corporate Anthropology? Take a look.
To know more about how culture change can revolutionize your company and unlock its potential growth, download my Corporate Anthropology Toolkit.
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