After decades of experience organizing and leading cultural transformation in organizations with more than 1,000 employees, we have identified several key factors for success.
To begin, we suggest that you and your management team reflect on these learnings together. Discuss what you do well and what you may need to consider doing differently going forward.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a remark made by Peter Drucker and popularized by the president of Ford Motor Company. The point is this: if you don’t have a strong culture, you won’t be able to effectively execute your strategy in a sustainable way. At the same time, if you don’t have the focus and direction of a strategy, your culture won’t survive.
Your current culture—“the way things are done around here”—is the enabler, the power center that provides the energy to align people to strive for a shared objective. This culture should be the expression of your mission, vision, and values.
There’s not one “right” model of corporate culture.
Many of us are looking for the best, most effective, or most successful culture. There isn’t a model for what a corporate culture should be. In a time when companies are doing a great deal of benchmarking and many thought leaders are sharing insights, you must develop the right culture for your organization. Corporations are living systems.
Keep in mind that culture is always changing in response to internal and external influences. Culture transformation in organizations must take these influences into account.
What you measure, you can manage.
Even though there’s no prescription for a perfect culture, you will need to measure your unique culture over time. It will be critical to track the impact of your initiatives and adjust your course.
Organizations don’t change; people do.
You cannot expect your culture to change unless you are willing to transform yourself as a leader. This requires leadership development with an intimate understanding of who you are, how you behave, what is important to you, and, most importantly, what you need to find fulfillment in your life. When you are transparent about who you are, what you truly want, and what you find unacceptable, you will be seen as a person with integrity and will develop trust among your teams.
When the top team leaders slow down to listen to the people in the organization and act upon those employees’ needs, transformation will begin. Many leaders are often too busy to listen to their own personal needs. They can also miss what is going on around them. Leaders at all levels need to continuously slow down and stay open to their needs and that of their employees.
It is important that leaders see themselves as a vital part of the whole and shift focus from self-interest to common good.
Start at the top and the bottom.
It is often said that culture change must start at the top, with leadership. This is true, but not the whole truth. You also need to create programs and opportunities to involve employees in developing your culture. People naturally want to work for organizations that value their people and their culture. You can start in small groups within the organization to demonstrate the impact of culture change on team performance. For organization-wide change, however, you’ll need to empower leaders at all levels to live the desired culture.
Dialogue is key.
Culture is not like a machine that you construct and manage. It is more like a living plant that you must nurture. To cultivate this “living entity,” it is crucial to engage and involve people because they are the expression of your culture. The only way to achieve this is through dialogue or, even more precisely, through co-creative dialogue.
Just by inviting dialogue, you are starting your culture transformation. Through reflection and conversation, people develop a collective awareness of what’s functional and dysfunctional and begin to define the way forward toward the desired culture.
Transformation takes time.
As Stephen Covey is attributed as saying, “With people, slow is fast and fast is slow.”
We live in a world where speed is revered. When it comes to culture, however, speed is not a success factor! This process involves human beings. Doing it too fast is like trying to jump from one side of the change curve to the other. It just does not work. If you try to push and go too quickly, your employees will be reluctant to act the next time you face change. So, instead of moving too fast, try investing time and being persistent and consistent.
In 2017, Ashley Munday, Director of Thrive by SweetRush, and Tor Eneroth, Director of Cultural Transformation at Barrett Values Centre, wrote an eBook as a resource and workbook for leaders to get started on the culture journey in a meaningful and tactical way. To accommodate as many leaders as possible, we have converted the content into a series of articles that can be read piece by piece and will be publishing them on a weekly basis. We invite you to consume the material at your own pace and welcome your feedback and questions along the way.
If you’re reading this series, we know you are a leader who understands and cares about the way your organization’s culture supports its people and its purpose—for that, we thank you! Check out the other articles in this series:
- Culture Change in Organizations Begins Within
- Organizational Culture Transformation—A Journey, Not a Destination
- Culture Change Case Study: Volvo IT
- Changing Corporate Culture Case Study: Old Mutual Group
- Cultural Change In Organizations Example: Unilever Brazil
- Key Learnings in Culture Transformation
- Growing Your Desired Culture: Leadership Commitment
- Growing Your Desired Culture: Roles for Supporting Culture