A company’s culture is its soul. It is what gives the company its life and shapes the experiences people have within and with the organization. But can culture be architected? Can it be changed?
To answer these questions, let us look at the example of a client of ours which is a multimillion-dollar global corporation. A few years back, they decided to expand their business into complementary markets. To support this decision, they acquired another large business. The CEO of our client company made it clear from Day 1 that this would be treated as a merger and not an acquisition. What he meant was that with the consolidation, he wanted to retain the best of the best from both the companies i.e. the best talent, the best technology, and the best elements of each company’s culture to create a new culture for this consolidated organization that honored the best of both. By intentionally focusing on learning and safeguarding the best elements of both the cultures, the CEO helped ensure that employees from both the acquiring and the acquired companies felt engaged with and connected to supporting a robust new culture.
Organizational culture is the shared values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors within an organization. A company’s culture has significant impact on employee satisfaction. In the US, according to a Glassdoor study from 2019, company culture is the #1 factor impacting job satisfaction for 22% of the workers. This can in turn impact a company’s bottom line. In a 2017 study by Deloitte, more than two-thirds of global C-suite executives agreed that a company's culture has a critically important impact on their organization’s ability to realize its mission and vision.
Similarly, a pivotal business change or transformation (whether internally ignited or externally influenced) can only be successful if the culture of the organization is aligned with that change. Yet, the hardest part of a business transformation is changing the culture—the mindset and instincts of the people in the company.
So what are the keys to driving successful culture change?
1. Clearly understanding the baseline culture, and articulating the cultural elements desired to support the transformation and new vision. It is important to appreciate what facets of the current culture go against the new direction of the company, how they need to be tweaked or what they would need to be replaced with. A culture diagnostic tool such as Organization Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI) can provide a validated assessment of the current culture.
In addition, it is also important to fully define the attributes of the desired culture and explain how they align with and support the goals of the transformation.
2. Clarifying what the actualization of those new cultural elements looks like. What we mean by this is what are the behaviors, words and daily actions that would honor the desired cultural attributes. The role modeling of those starts with the leadership but should also be practiced across all levels of the organization.
Furthermore, sharing success stories about individuals or teams that have fully embraced the new culture, as well as describing situations when someone did not live up to the new values can help make it more real for the employees. It can provide them a concrete vision of what the new culture in action looks like.
3. Relentlessly communicating and training staff on the desired culture, and the resulting change in values and goals. Going beyond posters and announcements. Building training around cultural attributes, behaviors, and desired mindsets as part of the onboarding and employee development efforts. Encouraging managers and team leaders to start every meeting discussing progress towards the new culture. Providing follow-up support and encouragement.
4. Creating an environment that encourages and promotes the new culture. For example, if a critical attribute of the new culture is collaboration, then providing work tools and physical and virtual spaces where employees can come together and engage with each other more effectively will motivate behaviors that promote that value.
5. Involving your employees in the work of culture change. Making sure that they understand the cultural vision and have a say in shaping the strategy to achieve that vision. Most people don’t resist change; they resist being forced to change. Studies clearly show that when employees feel that they have input into and control over defining how a change will be realized, they are more like to support and embrace it.
Therefore, as best possible, create opportunities for employees to provide ideas and feedback to enable the cultural transformation of the company.
6. Holding everyone accountable to the new set of expected behaviors that support the cultural transformation. Following-through on consequences for those who are not in alignment and can create impediments to the adoption of the new culture.
Similarly, when recruiting new employees, paying attention to cultural fit or at least the aptitude to demonstrate the new values and behaviors. Explaining to the candidate where you are planning to get to and checking how it resonates with them. Ensuring that you hire people who can fit the future reality of your cultural transformation is key to retention.
Culture change is not easy and it takes time. To successfully enable culture transformation it is important to have a clear vision for the change, a strong “why it is needed”, “how it will support the company’s goals”, and a clear strategy to achieve the change. Companies that can patiently invest in these efforts will reap rewards for a long time, both in terms of employee engagement and bottom line results.