What happens when over 8,000 business professionals from around the globe gather together in a professional learning environment for a week? They’ll expand their networks, hear fascinating speeches from industry leaders, and take away valuable insight on how to improve their businesses. In other words, change happens. Whether it is a Fortune 500 company, a consulting firm, or a start-up company, the ASTD International Conference is the premiere industry opportunity for building strong organizational cultures that strengthen the people element of business. And the Margaritas weren’t half bad, too!
The Corporate Culture Pros team was proud to kick off the conference with an in-depth workshop “Learn to Lead Culture Change” attended by over 40 training and development professionals. These business leaders each brought a unique perspective from their experiences inside companies from North America, Africa, Thailand, India and China, across a broad range of industries. In such a diverse audience, people were surprised how much common ground they found. For example, culture change is a grand idea but how do you make it manageable? What do you do when your business faces growing uncertainty? How can consultants better educate their clients about culture during the technology or strategy changes they are bringing? How do you get executives to really understand what culture change means? And, surprising research we showed that what employees care about really does not differ much from India to Indonesia to Indiana. We are more similar than we imagined!
Questions on Cultural Change
We brought a specific teaching agenda, but wanted mostly to engage group interaction. We all together shared our perspectives on many great questions from the group, including:
- How can we develop a customized measure of culture that is meaningful in our business?
- How do you develop culture when the business environment is uncertain (eg, “we won’t know until the June healthcare decision what our business mandates are, but we still need to prepare”).
- What can you do when a culture of two separate merging organizations are completely different?
- What do you do when the executive team “talks” about supporting cultural change, but then doesn’t demonstrate their commitment in action?
- What role do values play in cultural measurement and change?
One participant from Brazil shared a powerful example of how her organization made a decision to hire based FIRST on values fit, and secondarily on competencies. Their job ads don’t talk about the experience, but focus on what character qualities they are seeking. This significant change has led to stronger business performance in every aspect, because people are aligned and on the same page, which creates stronger trust.
During the workshop, we presented specific lessons showing HOW we taught clients to launch, lead, and sustain corporate culture change. Judging from the positive feedback from the participants, this really hit the mark. People wanted specifics, not general principles, and we really opened the kimono to show them exactly how we built the cultural process from ground zero. Here, we wanted to share some of those very same lessons. The lessons were organized around 5 key questions:
Why is Culture So Important?
Lesson #1: Cultural change is more important today due to 6 business trends. First, the increased speed of change. Second, customers are demanding higher levels of transparency. Third, expectations of “instant information” in the broader culture changes expectations of communication at work. Fourth, now more than ever, people are seeking connection – a common tribal identity helps create alignment to common goals. Fifth, in an “app world” of user reviews, it’s crucial to make information transparent and easy to access for employees. Sixth, culture helps you do more with less in an age of “better, faster, cheaper.”
How Do You Measure Culture?
Lesson #2: Cultural change must be driven by defining tangible, measurable behaviors. Values and beliefs are crucial conversations within the business; however, when it comes to driving cultural change you must identify granular and teachable behaviors to tell people what you want them to do differently.
Why Change Fails v. Succeeds?
Lessons #3: Cultural change is about making business change work. Culture change will never succeed when it’s viewed as an effort unto itself, disconnected from business strategies and goals. When cultural change is disconnected from the business, urgency will falter and the changes will not sustain. If you need changes in how people plan, communicate, or make decisions – do this because it will enable business goals and strategies.
How Do You Get Your CEO On Board?
Lesson #4: Cultural change must be led by the CEO or top leader. If they don’t see the direct value and connection to the business strategy and results, the attempts to lead cultural change will not work. We have been most successful in creating C-level and executive buy-in because we connect the language of culture to the language of business. They are not separate.
How Do You Change Culture?
Lesson #5: Cultural change can feel messy – unpredictable, non-linear, part science, part art. What makes it less messy? A clear process with steps. While you cannot conduct cultural change the same way you engineer a project, system or structure, it’s important to apply a proven set of key success factors.
During the ASTD workshop, we made these lessons come to life with complete case studies of two client cultural change processes. These proven lessons are key to ensuring that you can lead cultural change in your organization.
At the end, one participant said “You’re the first people I have met who have made practical sense of a topic that is often academic theories and grandiose ideas, which can’t be realistically implemented. Thank you!”
Mission accomplished. That’s all we had hoped to do with our work – demystify the topic of culture and make it simple and straightforward to execute.
You can sign up for an excerpted presentation of these lessons from the ASTD conference here. And if you’ve got a great ASTD story about what you learned, feel free to share. We’d love to hear from you.
Lisa Jackson and Gerry Schmidt are corporate culture experts and authors of the book “Transforming Corporate Culture: 9 Natural Truths for Being Fit to Compete.” They assess cultures and train leaders to align their corporate culture to strategy, to innovate faster and perform better in an age of rapid change and transformation.