New insights to changing workplace culture

An organization needs strategic goals and an approach to achieve them. But strategy is not the only lever for organizational success. Culture is another one. And culture trumps strategy, every time. Culture will happen at work whether you want it or not. So it is important to create your own, irresistible company culture.

Cultural change is hard - but feasible

Culture is elusive because it is anchored in unspoken behaviours, mind-sets, and social patterns. Because culture is also embedded in the entire organizational system, a complete turnaround is considered difficult and any evolution takes time.

Culture is like the wind. It is invisible, yet its effect can be seen and felt.

Many experts even go so far as to state that 70% of change efforts fail. But please, don't believe everything you read! It is what some people would call 'fake news'. In a Harvard Business Review article from July 2017, Nick Tasler rightfully debunks it as a myth. His conclusion? Yes, change is hard and requires significant effort but it is not doomed to fail. In fact, you have a higher change to succeed than to fail.

The best approach to change company culture

There are as many approaches to culture change as there are consultants, experts or academics that are professionally active in this discipline.

It is possible - in fact, vital - to improve organizational performance through culture change (B. Groysberg)

One comprehensive study of organizational culture that stands out is The Culture Factor as it was published in the January-February 2018 issue of the HBR. The researchers identified four levers for evolving a culture.

1. Articulate the aspiration
You should start by analysing your current culture. Choose a framework that is easy to understand and can be openly discussed throughout the organisation. Because culture is ambiguous and hidden by nature, referring to tangible problems, such as market pressures or the challenges of growth, helps people better understand and connect to the need for change.

2. Select and develop leaders who align with the target culture
Leaders are important catalysts for change by encouraging it at all levels and creating a safe climate to practice desired behaviour. Recruit new managers and train existing so they understand the aspirational culture and know how they can play a role in supporting the change. Additionally, prepare for unavoidable - and often desired - people turnover.

3. Stimulate conversations about culture
To shift the shared norms, beliefs, and implicit understandings within an organization, colleagues can talk one another through the change. Use road shows, listening tours or structured group discussion to support change. Encourage conversations on social media platforms. You can also use storytelling to share examples of culturally aligned behaviour (see for example RecognizePeers, a practical tool to boost company culture).

4. Reinforce the desired change through organizational design
Align your company's structures, systems and processes to support the aspirational culture. For example, performance management can be used to encourage employees to embody aspirational cultural attributes. Training practices can reinforce the target culture as the organization grows and adds new people.

When designing your cultural change approach, you might also benefit from reading Culture transformation: 11 Lessons learned from 11 top consultancies.

Koen Schreurs
Motivation & Recognition Expert








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HR News: New insights to changing workplace culture
New insights to changing workplace culture
HR News
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