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What Is a Culture Transformation, Exactly?

By Sue Wigston on December 19, 2017

Whether an organization’s employees and leadership realize it or not, every organization has a culture. It’s defined by what the people of the organization do—culture is the sum of all behaviors. Do employees go out of the way to help each other? Is there a unified approach to the way employees treat customers?

It’s different for every company, but the behaviors that define a culture are always there. The question is: Is it the culture you want? If it’s not, it’s possible to transform the existing culture into one that supports the short- and long-term success of the organization.  

What is Culture Transformation?

Culture transformation is a shift that can take place throughout an entire organization or in individual departments and teams. It requires changing the hearts, minds, and skills of the workforce to support the desired culture. Individuals must first have the conviction (heart) to change their behavior. Then, they must understand what behavior change looks like (mind) and have the necessary tools (skills) to change.

What is Culture Transformation?


As Eagle’s Flight founder Phil Geldart so aptly put it in his book, Purpose, Passion, Path:

“The exact nature of a culture transformation is simply that the people within the organization are behaving differently in some fashion, on a consistent basis, and that different behavior is being supported by each manager. The results of adopting those new behaviors will result in improved metrics, or outcomes consistent with what has been determined as essential for the long-term success, and maybe even survival, of the organization. The transformation will be achieved when the desired results, or metrics have been achieved. A transformation is therefore a process whereby, over time, people behave differently and the organization benefits in some fashion as a result. If these benefits are required, then a transformation is necessary.”

This is a lot to digest, but when you break it down, it is an achievable goal. The first step is to determine why a transformation of culture is needed. The second is to learn how to do it most effectively.

Why Undergo a Culture Transformation?

The underlying reason behind a culture transformation must be to achieve corporate objectives. Without this impetus, there will not be sufficient motivation to maintain the necessary momentum to create lasting behavior change. The specific objectives will depend on where your organization currently is and where you want to be. They might include goals such as:

  • Improving safety
  • Delivering excellent customer service
  • Engaging employees
  • Fostering leadership excellence

Regardless of what your corporate objectives are, they must be clear from the beginning so you can use them as touchstones throughout the process.

 

How to Achieve a Culture Transformation

A successful transformation requires full engagement and buy-in from all levels of leadership throughout the organization. Leaders play a vital role in modeling and coaching the desired behaviors that will permeate the company. Without a commitment from leaders to transform the culture, employees are not likely to make lasting behavior changes on their own.

After getting all the key players on board, create a roadmap that addresses the following questions:

Where are we now?

Perform assessments to diagnose where the organization actually is versus where you think it is. Leadership sometimes has a different perception of the culture, so it is important to collect accurate data and input from the organization as a whole. In order to determine how the majority of the organization perceives the company culture, use a discovery process that includes:

  • Surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Interviews with high-potential employees
  • One-on-one interviews with executives
  • Digital voting platforms

Gathering this information will help you successfully take on the next step of the culture transformation journey.

Want to know more about culture transformation? Here's everything you need to  know.

Where do we want to be?

Set organizational goals and objectives so you know when you have succeeded. This might be a market expansion, becoming innovative leaders in your industry, or standing out as a company that provides extraordinary customer service. Or it might be higher employee engagement and lower staff turnover. Whatever your specific objectives are, they must be clearly defined so that you know what success looks like.  

Why do we want to change?

Clearly articulate the reason for the change. This includes communicating with both leaders who will support the transformation and employees who will have a hand in making the transformation actually happen. Examples of reasons include:

  • Fixing a problem or filling a gap
  • Capitalizing on an opportunity
  • Entering new markets
  • Attracting and retaining top talent

As Phil Geldart writes, “When people understand the benefits that will occur as a result of a successful transformation, or even during the journey, then they are much more willing and able to support all the efforts that are required to achieve it” (Purpose, Passion, Path).

What is our line of sight?

After determining where the organization currently is, where you want to be, and why you want to get there, the next step is to create a line of sight from the beginning to the end of the transformation process. After defining the path, this line of sight must be continuously highlighted so it stays top-of-mind throughout the transformation. This can be achieved through periodic check-ins, milestone celebrations, and measuring success along the way.

Simply stated, culture transformation is the collective shifting of individual behaviors to support a shared goal. It’s a demanding process, but can be achieved and is highly rewarding when done properly.

 

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As Chief Operating Officer, Sue's extensive senior leadership experience and facilitation skills have established her as a trusted partner and organizational development expert. She has a proven track record of successfully leading culture transformation in Fortune 500 companies and has established herself as an authority on training and development. Sue has over 20 years of experience in the creation and delivery of programs and custom designed solutions for Eagle's Flight.

About Eagle's Flight

Founded in 1988, Eagle's Flight has earned its reputation as a global leader in the development and delivery of business-relevant, experiential learning programs that achieve specific training objectives and lasting behavior changes.

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