10 Tips for Changing Your Company’s Culture—and Making It Stick
It has been said, “The soft stuff is the hard stuff.” The business adage rings true for HR professionals trying to initiate culture change in their organisations.
I know a lot of people think culture is a mushy, fuzzy concept. But increasingly, research is showing that people really do care about culture.
So much so, in fact, that senior executives are finally starting to pay attention—which presents a tremendous leadership opportunity for HR. The notion of “culture,” loosely defined as the beliefs and behaviours that govern how people act in an organisation, emerged in the 1980s and is now believed to be a major determinant of a company’s success or failure.
Evidence indicating that culture is a top-of-mind issue for today’s executives and that companies with positive cultures have better performance, productivity and profits than those without. Companies known for their strong cultures, perform better than that of companies without.
For me, the No. 1 reason why any organisation should care is that it has been proven that culture, if you have a strong one, is positively correlated with business results.
10 tips for driving a culture change that will stick:
1. Define a set of desired values and behaviours. Have your leaders clearly described the values and behaviours they’re seeking? Make sure people can really understand and relate to day-to-day behaviour. That means coming up with behavioural descriptors for each value you define and articulating how those would translate into actionable behaviours at all levels—from secretaries to middle managers to executives.
2. Align culture with strategy and processes. Look at your mission, vision and values and consider how they line up with your HR processes, including hiring, performance management, compensation, benefits and the promotion of talent. Think about how recruiting and talent management build your culture into your future. Are your succession plans really creating the leaders you want?
3. Connect culture and accountability. Each of us can think about companies that have struggled to deal with culture. It is easy, particularly in difficult times, to forget the values you set in place to define your company.
4. Have visible proponents. For culture change to stick, it must be a priority of the CEO and board of directors. Show the board a framework for understanding organisational culture and its impact on performance. Work with the board to create a standing performance objective for the CEO that evaluates culture.
5. Define the non-negotiables. When contemplating a culture change, look at your current culture and call out which aspects you want to retain. HR has a critical role to play in figuring this out. Determining what’s not up for debate is particularly important during mergers and acquisitions, when leaders of two or more organisations must figure out how to blend identities.
6. Align your culture with your brand. Culture must resonate with both employees and the marketplace. I’m seeing an increasing partnership between HR and marketing in this regard. Figure out how to activate the brand across multiple stakeholder groups. This is especially relevant in our current online world, where today’s bad customer experience can become tomorrow’s viral sensation.
7. Measure it. We all know that what gets measured gets managed. I think we’re really deluding ourselves if we don’t admit that many people still see culture as this fuzzy thing. Help demonstrate the effectiveness of your efforts by implementing employee surveys, talent analyses that identify gaps between desired and actual behaviour, and assessments of ethics.
8. Don’t rush it. Changing a culture can take anywhere from months to several years. “It doesn’t happen overnight. It really depends on accessing the true gap between the culture you have and the culture you need to have. Start by making sure there’s a clear rationale for why the company should change.
9. Invest now. Don’t wait for staff and resources that may never come. It takes years of investment to get to that point where your culture just automatically becomes part of how you behave and act, so begin whatever way you can. Culture change is not a one-and-done exercise, so there is always more work to be done. “It’s fluid and it changes over time. If you’re in HR, you should feel good job security.
10. Be bold and lead. You don’t have to be in a position of influence to have influence. When we step up, it encourages others to step up as well.