3 Proven Methods for How to Change Culture

Changing Culture At Work

Part 2 of 2. continued from September 17, 2010


Step Three: 3 Ways to Change Culture Weak Spots

In 20 years of helping leaders align organizational culture and strategy to support high performance, we have found 3 traits that most commonly sap the power source of a businesses of every size, industry and geography. Addressing these organizational culture dynamics is the key to accelerating implementation and growth:

1)      Where are we going? YOU know the answer, Mr. or Ms. Leader. But do your people? Most don’t – really.  Forget the poster on the wall – the only people who know what that means are the five people in the off-site Retreat who created it. Why this is so important: Simple physics dictates the bigger the mass (team) the greater the energy and acceleration (common vision and purpose) needed to move it. If you want a corporate culture that can be more competitive, you need a powerful energy force. Mission is that force.  People want to be part of a tribe with a clear, exciting purpose. What’s your tribe’s purpose? Why will anyone care? Get this right and you bring everything into sharper focus. Diagnose your cultural type: If we asked 15 randomly selected people in your organization “What’s your company’s mission”: (1) How alike are their answers? and (2) How energetic and enthusiastic are their answers? A “so what” mission is usually characterized by low energy and decision paralysis (only the boss decides or decisions are endlessly revisited). Remedy: Even if it’s a sub-set of your larger corporate mission, create a compelling raison d’etre in 5 words or less, preferably 2-3.

Examples of favorite mission statements: The World on Time (FedEx).  Saving The Last Great Places (Nature Conservancy). AOL Anywhere. Beat Coke (Pepsi’s mission at one time). A great mission will catalyze energy, drive people to collaborate, and puts people on the same team – thus avoiding internal tribal warfare over limited resources.


2) One bad apple … A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Right now (unless you’ve beaten the odds) about 17% of the employees in your company are actively disengaged at work every day. They don’t want to be there. Your needs have outgrown their abilities, they’ve cultivated a giant chip on their shoulder, or both. Why this is so important: One or two bad apples WILL overly shape the cultural type because it sends the message “we tolerate jerks or mediocrity.” This will drag the entire team’s performance down.  You already know this cultural dynamic – the faces of these people probably have popped into your mind just now. You just haven’t decided to take a stand and deal with them. Diagnose: During a growth cycle, two things happen with bad apples: (1) They hunker down and find sneakier, better ways to deflect attention  and poison the culture barrel; and (2) Leaders, distracted by winning, act slowly and make excuses for them, sending the message to everyone else “we aren’t serious about fostering a great workplace.” And finally, your best apples eventually hop the barrel where the rotten ones live.  This kills innovation in your corporate culture – literally. If YOU (the leader) are the bad apple, it’s a different conversation. Remedy: Picking bad apples out of the barrel is the hardest job for you as a leader. But PLEASE do it – and tell everyone else why. Let these apples go on to find a happier barrel before they completely rot and the energy rises among everyone else. And, stop the risk of your entire company culture being poisoned. Let this be the moment you make one hard personnel decision and act on it.

3)      Growth on the outside starts with growth on the inside. Every human being has an innate desire to learn and grow. If you want growth in your business, focus on growth in your people. Sadly, most organizational cultures stifle learning. HR usually cares about it but the business systems, processes, structures – and most importantly, managers – do not foster daily interactions that actively lead to growth and learning. Diagnose: A culture that doesn’t support learning will say “I don’t have time” and “We don’t have budgets for training.” Usually those who could mentor are too busy BEING the giant growth engine of the team. Get yourself out of the “I’m too busy” trap. Growing people is a sure-fire strategy for growing your business, even if you have to endure growing pains in the short-term. Remedy: Ask every person in your company to jot down their OWN one-page career plan, answering questions like “How I’m contributing to our mission” (see #1) “My top dream” and “What I’m working on to get better.” This is not a performance evaluation! Ask every manager to sit down and listen to their direct reports share their dreams.  Everyone (except bad apples) will love this. Second, performance evaluations are not a mode for growth and learning – they’re emotionally loaded territory because of rating and money discussions.  Initiate weekly 1:1 check-ins with your people – simple but regular is key: “What did you do last week? Where are you stuck or how can I help? What will you accomplish this week?”  Do it by phone or in person. Document progress. These conversations change everything about a culture’s energy, if managers set ego aside and really listen.

Maybe these aren’t the exact remedies for your situation, but I guarantee that if you are seeking culture change, these are the 3 culture basics to get right. When you do, you see an immediate and sustainable power boost to your growth, which helps you to compete better and faster.  The more sophisticated culture stuff is for advanced users: Walk before you run.

Light your fuses … ignite … accelerate.

Lisa Jackson is a corporate culture expert and co-author of 2 books including the brand new “Culture Builder Toolkit: A Step-by-Step Guide for Assessing and Changing Corporate Culture.”  She specializes in teaching companies and leaders how to align and transform their corporate culture to maximize profitable growth, productivity, and innovation. 

For free tools and resources on culture change, visit www.CorporateCulturePros.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/corporatecultur


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