Culture is the sum total of all the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of individuals within the organization. In the words of Eagle’s Flight founder and CEO Phil Geldart, author of Culture Transformation: Purpose, Passion, Path, culture isn’t just what people do in general; it is “more closely aligned to what the people do in particular: that is, in times of stress, at the time of an acquisition, or when the organization is in transition in some fashion. The behavior of the people at these times is what really defines a corporate culture.” Different from the company mission or values, culture describes how the company mission is achieved and how the values of the company are lived out on a daily basis.
Corporate culture is so important that it can significantly impact whether or not your company accomplishes its most important goals. In a survey of CEOs and CFOs, 78 percent said corporate culture was among the top five things that made their company valuable, and over 50 percent said corporate culture influenced company productivity, creativity, and profitability. However, when there are aspects of your culture that you’d like to improve, you need to change the hearts, minds, and skills of your workforce. This requires developing a clear picture of the desired outcome and involving leaders at all levels. Here’s how to get started.
Understand the Current Culture
Your actual company culture may differ from the one most commonly articulated, and many within the organization may even have conflicting views about the existing culture. In a survey of HR professionals, managers, and full-time employees, all three groups had a range of different ideas about the drivers of culture and the most important aspects of their current company culture. Surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one meetings with employees and executives can help to paint a clear picture of your existing culture and how people perceive it. By understanding your current culture, you can also begin to identify which aspects of it you want to change.
Articulate the Desired Culture
As you examine and define your current culture, it may become clear that only certain aspects of it need to change—for example, in sales or in customer service. After pinpointing the areas of focus, the next step is to articulate what the desired culture will look like. As you develop a vision for the new culture, the definition and characteristics will need to include desired behaviors among employees, key goals, and a detailed plan for addressing the challenges you may encounter along the way. In addition, a timeline for change will also help to ensure you achieve the desired outcome without getting derailed.
Involve Leaders at All Levels
Organizational leaders need to accept responsibility for leading the company and supporting employees through the process of culture change. HR can be a strong partner in helping to facilitate the change, but a successful culture transformation requires that every leader in the organization be fully on board in leading change. Also, leader behavior must align with the message of culture change. According to research by Gartner, 83 percent of senior leaders communicate the importance of culture, but only 29 percent behave in a way that aligns with company culture, causing them to miss opportunities to embed the culture in employees’ day-to-day work. Leaders can successfully lead culture change through their words and actions by:
- Defining, communicating, and modeling the desired performance of the new culture.
- Providing individuals with the necessary training and opportunities for skill development so they can operate successfully in the new culture.
- Recognizing progress and milestones as the new culture becomes a reality.
Every company has a culture, and fully defining your company culture is the first step in developing a plan to improve it. Corporate culture is too important to rush. It requires a carefully thought out strategy that helps individuals achieve optimal performance in the new culture. When that happens, the organization will be better positioned to meet its goals for the future.