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Culture Transformation—It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

By Dave Root on December 6, 2017

“Slow and steady wins the race.” That well-known saying is certainly true when it comes to implementing a culture transformation in the workplace. An initiative that’s rushed is less likely to take root and be successful. Treating a culture transformation like a marathon—a huge undertaking that athletes take months to prepare for—is the way to go. A marathon is hard work, yes, but after the race, most athletes are so excited about the experience they can’t wait to compete in their next race!

Why do you need to take a marathon approach to a culture transformation? Because culture is something that touches every aspect of your company—from leadership and lofty mission statements to the way employees interact with one another on a day-to-day basis. It’s worth putting in the work to ensure it’s done right. Here’s why true transformations take time—and why that’s a good thing:

1. You need to first understand your current reality.

If you don’t take the time to understand where your company currently is, you won’t know how to draw the road map to get you to where you want to be. In order to get there, the crucial first step in your transformation is to conduct a thorough gap analysis and collect feedback from all levels of your company—that means your leadership team, mid-level managers, and frontline employees. Again, since culture affects all levels of your organization, everyone’s voice is important. Only once you get a clear picture of your current reality can you determine how you’ll get to the desired culture, one that supports future growth objectives, goals, and anticipated changes. If you skip this step in an effort to get to the transformation finish line faster, the action plan you develop will suffer, as will the results.

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2. You must plan to lead from the top.

Yes, the C-Suite already has a lot on its plate, but a transformation still has to be a top-down effort; passing it off to HR just isn’t an option. Insisting that the leadership team take full responsibility for the outcome of the culture transformation may mean it will take longer, but it’s the only way for your transformation to truly stick. Why? Because your employees take behavioral cues from your leadership team. If they’re only talking the talk, and not walking the walk, that sends the message to employees that the transformation is not a real priority. To instill a vibrant, high-performance culture, leadership needs to work in tandem with HR to describe the ultimate vision for the company and develop plans to get there. It’s a meticulous and, yes, slower approach to implementing major changes in the workplace, but it’s the only way to receive buy-in from employees at all levels on those changes.

3. For sustained culture change, you’ll need to focus on retention.

Your culture transformation isn’t complete just because employees have completed a series of training sessions. You must build a retention plan if you want your desired culture to stick. Changing deep-rooted behaviors takes time and requires a lot of post-training support. In fact, studies have shown that, thanks to “learning decay,” we can forget up to 90 percent of what we learn in training—if it’s not then reinforced. Retention strategies to support your initiative training may include:

  • Small group discussions
  • One-on-one meetings with managers
  • Online “gamified” lessons that reinforce training through virtual rewards
  • Video-based trainings that recap key learnings

Keep in mind that retention can happen even if teams are remote. Thanks to new technologies in the digital learning space (some of which are mentioned above), working with remote teams is no longer an excuse to lose focus on results.

Reaching the Finish Line

All three of these elements, while they take time to implement, must be present for the changed behaviors to truly take hold in your organization. A culture transformation isn’t a short-term goal—it’s a long-term strategy. One that can lead to a host of benefits for your organization, including an energized, engaged workforce; happier customers; and a more robust bottom line. If results like that are on the line, it’s worth it to take the time to do a transformation the right way.

Leading a Culture Transformation

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Dave Root

About the author

Dave joined Eagle’s Flight in 1991 after having spent a number of years with a Toronto-based accounting firm. Since that time, he has held a number of posts within the company, primarily in the areas of Operations, Finance, Legal, and IT. In his current role as both Chief Financial Officer and President, Global Business, Dave is focused on ensuring the company’s ongoing financial health as well as growing its global market share. In pursuing the latter, Dave’s wealth of experience and extensive business knowledge has made him a valued partner and trusted advisor to both our global licensees and multinational clientele.

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