Six Best Practices for Driving Culture Change

When your employees are disengaged, resistant to change, and don’t fully understand what your company’s strategy is, it’s time for a culture change.

Easier said than done.

We know changing an embedded culture isn’t an easy task: it requires deeply understanding your current company culture, envisioning where exactly you want your company to be in the future, and doing the hard work to change behaviors and routines that your people have solidified over decades.

We’re here to help. Through our 20+ years of experience working with large companies on organizational performance and transformation, we’ve compiled six best practices for driving company-wide culture change and making it stick.

 

Make Culture a Top Priority

When culture change is necessary, it must be a top priority for senior management. If there is one thing we have learned, it’s this: When culture change is necessary, if it is not one of the executive team’s top three priorities, the culture change will fail. In such cases, it’s highly likely that the organization’s strategies, and in some cases the company itself, will also fail.

 

Lead by Example

The tone for culture is set at the top. It is critically important and cannot be delegated. It must be lived and acted daily in large and small ways. People may listen to what you say, but they also watch what you do. If your actions don’t match your words, your people will follow the example that’s set by your actions.

 

Focus on One Habit at a Time

We recommend that executives focus on no more than six key behaviors and that they focus on these one at a time. For a period of three to six months, leaders focus on changing one key behavior, practicing it with each other and with employees, making the commitment privately and in public to make that a personal habit, and soliciting feedback from colleagues and employees.

 

Establish a Rhythm and Track Progress

Most leaders and managers create change most effectively when they have a number that they are trying to move up and toward the right. Culture is no different.
The most effective tool we have seen for measuring cultural improvement over time is a simple employee survey, similar to what you see on Yelp or Amazon reviews. These surveys measure employees’ perceptions about behaviors. In the world of culture, perception is reality.

Measure employee perceptions about the habit you are focusing on. Poll and review the numbers weekly. Look at the numbers as part of your regular operational rhythm, such as weekly team meetings and status updates. Ask probing questions about what causes and influences those perceptions.

Track your progress over time. Talk about your culture survey results publicly and make them a topic of conversation throughout the company.

 

Plan for a Short-Term Drop in Performance

Expect a “muddy middle” period where people are shedding their old behaviors but have not yet embraced or learned the new ones. Performance will most likely drop during this period. This is where many culture change initiatives lose their resolve and snap back to old habits and routines.

 

Be Patient

Culture work takes time. The first habit is the hardest to break, and the most difficult days are the early days. As people begin to see progress and see that your actions match your words, resistance and skepticism will decrease and you will gain momentum over time.

With a strong commitment from leaders who are leading by personal example, asking the right questions, and tracking cultural performance over time, can make steady progress toward a revitalized culture.


Are you ready to get started?
We can help. Contact us or check out our Culture Mapping Workshop.

This article was originally written for Oracle's blog.