Change is never easy. It is one thing to start a new job and have to learn all the tasks involved. It is another thing to learn and adjust to the culture of the company. Company culture refers to the way things get done and the way people interact with each other. It is the prevalent attitudes that employees share, the accepted practices for socializing while at work, and the daily structure that people follow. Your ability to navigate company culture often determines your success. But what if the culture is preventing you from achieving the task you’ve been hired to do?
Many times leaders are hired to make significant changes in a company, and those changes usually require a shift in the existing culture in order to take effect. You’re brought in to streamline a process, introduce new protocols, or create a new product. All of these tasks require employees to change their current way of doing and thinking. You have to change the culture in order to be successful in the task change. So how do you do that? You do it by following established strategies for creating cultural change. Don’t expect to change anything overnight; it’s a long and challenging process.
The Process of Cultural Change
1 It all begins with education.
People must understand why the change in culture is needed. This is an important first step. All change starts with understanding. You need to bring people together and help them understand the reasons for the change and what role they will play in the process. Try to provide multiple opportunities for people to contribute to the ideas for the implementation process. This helps create buy-in and allows people a chance to provide feedback and share concerns that will need to be addressed in later steps. Getting everything out in the open early on helps prevent the need to backtrack later.
For example, present what needs to be changed and allow input on how that change will take place. You may already think you have the solution but by involving others you can be made aware of any cultural roadblocks and you’ll be provided with ways to overcome those obstacles.
2 The next step is to provide resources.
Inevitably, change requires shifting resources away from some areas and toward others. Resources may be financial, equipment, or human capital. It is making sure that you are providing everything that will be needed for the change to take place. Nothing is more frustrating than being told to make a change – even wanting to make a change – and not having the needed resources made available. Whether it is a small change or a big change, changing one’s way of thinking and doing is a significant ask.
It is important to be aware of where these resources will be coming from. If something that employee’s value will lose resources, you need to be prepared to address these unintended consequences. Help everyone focus on what will be gained rather than what is being lost. If possible, find alternatives that will help compensate what people feel is being lost and be prepared for people to grieve during the transition. It doesn’t mean these folks won’t get on board, but they may need time to adjust to the change.
“Values determine culture. Culture determines behavior. Behavior determines outcomes.” —Rohan Dredge
3 Step three is motivation.
In business, you must facilitate ways for employees to buy into forthcoming changes. Early adopters are frequently highlighted as a way to create positive peer pressure for others to make the change. One of the key motivational strategies is being able to witness success from a change. Somebody, at minimum the leader but best when there are people at all levels, has to walk the talk before others will follow.
Motivation needs to be subtly incorporated into every step of the process. But here is where you really highlight those that are making the transition, and the rewards – for everyone – that are emerging from the changes. The focus is on success and using motivational strategies to help everyone feel like they are a valued contributor to that success. Whether those contributions are current or in the future, the more you make everyone feel like a winner the more supportive they will be as the changes continue to become mainstream.
4 Step four is governance.
Written policies need to be created to support any system process or cultural change. Just as education is always the first step, governance is always the last. The smoothest and most successful change starts at the bottom and works its way up to the top. Once you have people committing to implementing the change desired, you reinforce the change with policy. Of course, this generally includes consequences for anyone who doesn’t fall in line.
Putting It All Together
If generational movements can make progress on a cultural change within an entire country within the span of a decade, there is no reason you can’t be successful in making a change within your company, your life, or your family. Hopefully in significantly less time than a country-level change. Not everyone will be convinced that action is needed, and some will rebel against your effort. But if the vast majority of people involved can come to understand the issues and respect that the decisions made are for the betterment of the company and its employees, change can be made. Cultural changes always take time and continued effort. However the rewards can far outweigh the battles.
Just because we have always done something a certain way doesn’t mean we should continue doing it that way. There are times when we need to look into the future and assess our practices. Will they continue to be sustainable, effective, and efficient? I challenge you to be proactive. Examine the resources you routinely use. Will they still be available to you in the future? If not, what can you do today to start transitioning to a new way of getting things done without that resource, or by using resources in a different way? I challenge you to protect your values while allowing the culture to be flexible as it changes to adapt to new efforts.
Revised August 2022. Originally published under The OD Pro in November 2019.