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How to Change Organizational Culture Successfully
Running a thriving business means mastering its culture—a task that's not as easy as it seems. According to Deloitte's Global Human Capital Trends Report, 82% of organizational leaders view a strong culture as a potential competitive advantage—but only 19% feel that their organization has gotten the culture right.1
Many senior leaders see problematic behaviors in their organizations but aren't sure how to change the culture. However, there's good news. Organizational change is a lot simpler than you might think. In this post, we’ll walk you through some key tips on how to change organizational culture successfully.
Change management is a complex process. Explore the change management training materials available at HRDQ to help your organization deal with change successfully at every level.
Assess Your Current Culture
To change organizational culture effectively, you need first to understand the current state of your culture. Start by engaging your leaders in defining your organization's primary performance priorities, such as increasing revenue or delivering best-in-class customer service.
- Identify behaviors. Identify the behaviors you see across the organization. Consider both key strengths you'd like to build on and weaknesses that are impacting your ability to reach your performance targets. Identify three to five of each.
- Find the root cause. You need to know why these behaviors are happening if you want to change them. Spend some time thinking through the beliefs and attitudes that are driving the behaviors you're seeing.
- Survey all levels of your organization. Be sure to get plenty of input from people across the organization during the assessment phase. Talk with mid-level managers and frontline employees who can give you a clear picture of current issues and underlying attitudes. The last thing you want to do is roll out a cultural change initiative that falls flat because it doesn't square with the reality of what's happening in the organization.
For example, suppose every project involves endless rounds of meetings, with every stakeholder getting multiple opportunities to weigh in on potential issues. In conversation with your employees, you might hear project managers express a perception that each project needs to be flawless before it is shipped out. These findings can help you target the underlying reasons for challenges in your organizational culture.
Define Your Vision
Many leaders can see problems in their culture. But they can't say what culture is in the first place. Getting specific about what you're looking for makes all the difference to the success of your initiatives.
Examine the weak areas you identified earlier, and pinpoint the behaviors you'd expect to see if your culture were at its best. Get behind those behaviors, as you did earlier. What attitudes and beliefs would drive your people to show the behaviors you want, day in and day out? Be specific and detailed.
Create SMART Goals
Now that you know the behaviors and attitudes you want to get to work backward from there. Define SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely) geared toward helping each of your organizational units start to demonstrate the expected behaviors.
Suppose customer service is a weakness. SMART goals might include introducing customer service training for those in client-facing roles and reviewing processes to ensure that all customers have a consistent experience. If you've heard that CSRs aren't clear on why customer service matters to the organization's overall mission, you might add consistent messaging emphasizing the importance of delighting customers.
While all areas of the organization should work together to support cultural change, choose SMART goals appropriate for each area of the organization. To continue with the customer service example, senior leaders may focus on messaging the new priority of delighting customers while CSRs may focus on regular customer service training. Everyone should understand their role in making your new culture shift toward success.
Sending out a company-wide email on your new culture initiative isn't going to change anything. To make real cultural change happen, you need to engage your employees.
Ensure that managers talk with their direct reports about how their work aligns with the organization's new cultural initiatives during regular performance conversations. Managers should work with direct reports to set performance goals aligned with these priorities.
To keep your employees motivated, build communication, and coaching into your work routine. Schedule informal, one-on-one conversations regularly so that team members can keep you up to date on their progress toward performance goals. These sessions are the perfect time to celebrate successes, process setbacks, and answer questions.
Don't just hope for success. While many organizations go all-in on creating an elaborate change management plan, few identify measures of success to determine whether their initiatives are working. Create a system to track results across the organization, so you know that your plan has a positive impact.
Think back to the behaviors you want to see in a healthy culture. Using those behaviors, you can define specific success measures that can help you determine the success of your change initiative.
Let's go back to our customer service example. Suppose you recently took a look at your company's Net Promoter Score and it's currently sitting at a not-so-hot -20. From there, you can easily determine a success measure for a strong customer service culture—raising your NPS to +70.
Trust the process. In both your coaching conversations and your efforts to measure results across the organization, understand that change can take time. It rarely happens in a day. Continue to monitor results and respond accordingly, and you'll be well-positioned for success.
Changing organizational culture can be an enormous challenge. Making sure you're crystal-clear on the outcomes you want to see can make all the difference. It’s essential first to get a clear picture of your organizational culture, then define the specific behaviors you want to see. Have each department set SMART goals to reach the target behaviors, and coach employees one-on-one to ensure everyone achieves success.
Organizational change impacts everyone. That's why HRDQ offers a library of change management training resources to help you successfully manage change at every level of the organization.