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In this podcast I want to talk about how you can create a culture change quickly.
First let’s start by looking at why creating the right culture is important.
Why is creating the right culture important?
It’s the hidden force that drives most of our behaviour in the company. Therefore, it drives our choices or decisions
Culture and leadership are the same coin, just different sides. Leaders are responsible for managing the culture, re-enforcing what’s still working, leading the way and role modelling what needs to evolve.
A leader must be right for that stage of a business. There are leaders that are great at turning a business round, those who are great for stability and those great for growth. There are leaders who are great for start-ups, those taking it to the next level and those who are right for large, mature organisations.
Bring in the wrong leader for the phase of the business you’re in and complications ensue.
When new Leaders join a team or business and don’t know how to manage culture then things can get messy, fast.
They either fight the existing culture – which can result in them being spat out quickly by the company or employees play the game and on the surface go along with the new leader, waiting it out till the leader moves on. Existing cultures usually win here.
The new leader could give in to the culture – in which case what needed to change and evolve doesn’t. This is usually a slow creeping death.
What is culture?
In a nutshell it’s derived from unspoken behaviours, mindsets and social patterns
Culture shapes the attitudes, decisions, choices that are made. It defines what’s normal, acceptable and rewarded in this team, site or company.
Culture is like a soup, if it’s a healthy one it nourishes you. If it’s unhealthy for you then you want to get out – it’s one reason people leave within 6 months of joining an organisation. What’s more as an organisation grows the culture will evolve, as it does, some people choose to leave, the soup no longer right for them. Sometimes though evolution is required but it’s fought by all and then the soup becomes toxic and if nothing happens the company goes under.
How can I tell what the culture is?
Observing the culture could be split into 3 aspects
What do you see around you, the artefacts, the behaviours. Eg Is it open plan, formal dress, mini football table, what’s the art on the wall, the way the phone is answered or you’re greeted at reception – it’s the surface presentation of the culture, but it might not actually be the culture. Some of what you see could be the desired culture or it could be the espoused culture. In some cases it’s just a collection of stuff and means nothing at all. Without further enquiry, observation and interrogation you don’t really know how valid this stuff that you’re observing is. Plus you need to remember you’re observing it through your subjective filters.
The values they state. Eg Teamwork. But how do they behave that demonstrates teamwork? Is it that no decision is made until we all agree. People can attend any meeting they fancy if they believe they have something to contribute. We work together and no one is left to sink. No shouting or strong expression of emotion. It’s OK to let rip if it’s at the idea not the person. You see how these are all different and without being explicit then each person will come with their expectation of what this value means. The upshot is that people think they’re living the value and others might disagree.
Then you need to observe – are decisions made in line with the values or conveniently forgotten if it’s going to cost time or money.
The harder or deeper
What’s the history of the team or organisation. What were the key values, beliefs, assumptions and mindset of the founders. What worked, brought success that was then taken for granted as the way to do things and is no longer considered, or challenged. It’s also taught or passed on to newcomers as this is the way to think / feel and act to experience success. Or stay safe or have some stability.
Here you’re looking to discover what are the deeper underlying thought patterns that drive emotions and behaviour
In summary then culture is highly unconscious and unless you become aware of it, it is managing you and the results that are possible. As a leader it’s critical you become aware of it and learn how to use it. This will help you navigate challenges better as well as bring greater results.
Which brings me to a question I’m often asked
The fastest way to create a culture shift is….
Discover the underlying thought patterns that are driving the culture and then you know where to start the shift.
What still works, what’s outlived its use, what are people strongly attached to that they are reluctant to let it go. What’s required to support the desired culture.
Now sometimes a leader in a team can step back and observe, discover, and implement – no external 3rd party help is required.
Often though external help is. Now again sometimes the external can be external to the team. But external to the company gives you that ultimate fresh perspective, plus we’ve also done this a lot, so we can guide you as to ways of getting the outcome as fast as possible.
5 reasons most culture shift initiatives fail?
A lot of change initiatives fail because no one considered the culture and whether the new change could operate in the current culture.
Culture change initiatives fail for a variety of reasons
- There was insufficient clarity on the purpose and vision of the company
- The leadership team thought they were immune to any change and could just outsource it and carry on as before
- It wasn’t managed as a culture change – it’s deep stuff, it’s going to bring up strong reactions, positive and resistant. You have to be able to handle this, not slap a lid on things or just mandate.
- It’s implemented through fear – the burning building approach, which really just burns up resources.
- Systems and processes are out of alignment with the new culture. Eg New culture says teamwork and collaboration and then KPI’s are set for your function alone and your bonus is based on your individual performance.
Creating a culture shift in your team
If you’re looking to create a culture shift in your team then these are some key elements.
- Have a clear vision and purpose that everyone understands and commits to
- Have clear values and behaviours that are aligned with the vision and purpose
- Ongoing – Allow time for reflection – individual and as a team
- You can see progress by the quality of the conversations that are taking place.
Creating a culture shift in your department / site / business
Effectively you’re doing the above on a larger scale. Which can be daunting. It’s good to know there are tools and frameworks that allow you to get insight as to where you are right now, where is the low hanging fruit, what looks like the best path to take to get you where you want to be. What are the other considerations you need to focus on and improve so that the culture shift is sustainable – systems / recruitment / leadership / relationships / learning and growth / product. I love the Barrett’s Values Culture Assessment for helping with all of this. Yes there is a cost associated with doing this, however the insights it reveals and support it provides is worth it’s weight in gold.
How long does it take to create a culture shift?
How long is a piece of string – in a team it can happen in as little as 90 days, if it’s managed well. And then extrapolate from there. If we’re changing the culture of an entire organisation of 1000+ people then you’re looking at a good year plus, (again if it’s well managed). The reason it takes longer is because there will definitely be shifts required as I mentioned in areas like recruitment, compensation and benefits, general organisational systems.
Impact of Culture on Company Performance
Culture indicates the future performance of the business. It affects engagement, staff retention, being able to attract future talent. These things impact customer satisfaction and trust in the brand. All of which hit the bottom line.
I come back to something I mentioned earlier – if you’re not actively managing the culture of your team / department / company then it is definitely managing you.
If you want to discuss how you can get better at managing your culture contact me
In the meantime
Go be the difference in leadership