After years of stagnation and cutbacks, the cultures at many organizations need rejuvenating in order to thrive in today’s challenging business environment. But, changing culture is difficult. As Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, wrote:
The hardest part of a business transformation is changing the culture—the mindset and instincts of the people in the company.
So, what are the keys to driving cultural change?
1. Clearly Define the Culture: Define the new culture clearly, fully explaining the attributes of the culture and the acceptable behavior in the new culture.
2. Over Communicate: Through teaching and training, communicate your picture of the new culture and the required change in values and goals. Communicate repeatedly; however many times you speak about the new culture, some team member will be hearing and understanding it for the first time.
3. Leadership Example: As the leader, embody the new culture in your actions, words, and behaviors. Anything less will be perceived as hypocrisy and a lack of commitment to the cultural change. If you want to create an improved customer service mindset, then be customer-oriented and customer-focused yourself.
4. Relentless Follow-up: Continue with relentless and ongoing follow-up, support and encouragement. Start every meeting discussing the progress towards the new culture. When managing by walking around, clarify and confirm with employees their understanding of the new cultural mindset.
5. Create Conditions to Align with Culture: Change the physical environment to reflect and allow for the acceptance of the new culture. If teamwork is the theme, re-arrange the office to induce better teamwork; if safety is the theme, spend the money to make the physical conditions in the office, the factory or the service vehicles safe. Likewise, align the incentives to match the culture.
6. Share Good and Bad Examples: Share the success stories about individuals or teams that have fully embraced the new culture. Also, share the failures; describe the times when you or others did not live up to the new values and goals.
7. Involve the Individual: Involve the employees, encouraging their new ideas and putting them into practice. When appropriate, have individual employees teach and/or evaluate each other. Any involvement of the individual employee gives them a stake in realizing the cultural change. Ken Blanchard says it well:
People often resent change when they have no involvement in how it should be implemented. So, contrary to popular belief, people do not resist change, they resist being controlled.
8. Accountability: There needs to be accountability. Expel those employees who do not accept the new cultural values and goals. Since they do not fit with the new culture, they will just be an impediment to the full implementation of the culture.
9. Patience and Persistence: Changing the culture involves changing the mindset and instincts of each person in the company. This does not happen overnight. So, patience and persistence are necessary for continuing down the path for the one to three years usually required.