Changing Culture: One Person at a Time

Culture is defined as “group norms of behaviour and the underlying shared values that help keep those norms in place.” For example, look at the typical meetings in your office. Is everyone on time or do meetings usually start five to ten minutes later than schedule?

What about attention to detail? Do final project reports receive a thorough review and commentary or are they filed as received? These scenarios represent organizational culture.

If your employees are stressed, overwhelmed, or procrastinate on deadlines, or if your company is always underperforming, don’t blame your employees. Blame your organization’s leaders.

An organization’s leaders or founders establish values that permeate through the organization and manifest in behaviours. The more these behaviours loop back to the leaders’ own values, the more they are reinforced and perpetuated throughout the organization.

To change an organization’s culture, the leaders must change their own values and behaviours. They can do this by creating a vision for the company and telling the story about how working toward the vision will help the company and its employees grow.

In addition, leaders need to be persuasive and model the behaviour that they wish to see from their employees; frequently engaging in conversations with all staff to “sell” the vision and inspire their staff. This is the correct approach.

An incorrect approach to changing organizational culture is through disincentives such as coercion, threats, or punishment. All of these “power tools” may work to incite change in employees’ or departmental behaviours, but the change is temporary at best. Using power tools to influence cultural change is not sustainable or desirable.

Here are four considerations for changing your organization’s culture to one that is efficient, productive and effective:

  1. Sell the new vision and enlist early adopters and those that are on the fence to join you in selling the vision. Once they do, ensure that they are recognized for their accomplishments.
  2. Don’t just preach about the need for change. Use examples from your company that demonstrate an urgency for change. For instance, have managers take calls from disgruntled customers to understand why customers are cancelling orders at the last minute, leaving the company in the hole by $100,000 for each product design prototype that is not purchased.
  3. Redistribute resources to the 20 percent of areas that produce 80 percent of the company’s results. These are areas where implementing change first will have a tremendous impact organization-wide.
  4. Enlist an individual in your company called a “consigliere” (source: Blue Ocean Strategy). This individual will find out who is fighting change, who is supporting change, and what you need to do to build strategies for sustainable change.

To this last point, a stumbling block to any change initiative is typically an “old guard” mentality that is steadfastly held, usually by long-time employees. Leaders must expect to spend a great deal of time with these individuals to get them to buy into the organization’s new vision, so that they don’t disrupt the new way forward.

Changing an organization’s culture is probably one of the hardest things that leaders will do. It’s a slow process, but the rewards of working in a vibrant company where respect and appreciation of everyone’s time are top of mind will go a long way to ensuring long term organizational and personal success.

Whenever I Have a Problem, I’m Around

(My thanks to Patrick Davidson for the idea for the blog title.)

Are you a player? Or are you a victim?

If you’re a player, you choose to resolve problems. If you’re a victim, you act as if there is no choice and accept everything that is thrown your way. Whether one can say they have a problem is based solely on their perception of the situation.

Problems are not things. They cannot be held. Rather, they are perceptions of things. They can be seen as situations to avoid or as opportunities to embrace. Victims see problems as obstacles that cannot be overcome and use language such as “should” or “not fair.” Players, on the other hand, embrace problems as opportunities for change.

Every organization needs players. Why? Players are the change agents without whom organizations die. Players help others in your organization interact in a way that leads to shared beliefs and values which in turn leads to shared organizational goals and behaviours. Beliefs and values drive behaviour.

For example, organizations with shared beliefs of consistency, fairness, communication, and team involvement will display those beliefs through improved productivity, improved quality, increased group morale, and increased individual satisfaction across the organization. In organizations that do not have these behaviours, players are needed to help organizations change their beliefs.

If you’re not a player in your organization, here are ten things you can do right now to move toward becoming a player. In turn, you will be helping yourself and your organization change for the better.

  1. Buy part of the problem to be part of the solution. That is, see the problem for what it is – an opportunity to improve. Get involved in creating the solution.
  2. Grow through adversity. It takes a lot of emotional strength to grow into a player. Get rid of negative language (e.g., should, must, unfair, unjust, etc.). Use positive language (e.g., could, might, fair, just, etc.).
  3. Use pain and frustration to build strength. Ask “what challenges am I facing?” rather than “what happened to me?”
  4. Do not blame. Do not judge. Take responsibility for the process in your organization. It doesn’t matter who created the process.
  5. For each solution, ask “what worked well?” and “what could have been improved?”
  6. Learn from your experiences. The only failure is the one where you do not learn from your mistakes.
  7. Share information before it is needed. Openness and transparency create a trusting and proactive environment.
  8. Take initiative. Don’t wait to be asked to do something.
  9. Give credit where credit is due. Praising others for their contribution, no matter how small, will go a long way to building trust. As Patrick Davidson points out, a kind word and a thoughtful gesture are the two most powerful things in existence. Use them and use them often.
  10. Use common sense to build common practice. That is, build upon all of the above points to implement effective and efficient practices in your organization.

Implementing the above will help you build space, safety, and comfort in the organization so that others become players. In essence, you’re changing the beliefs and values of the organization one person at a time until all behaviours align to create a quality culture of efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity. This is how one changes organizational culture.

Next time you encounter a problem, stick around. It’s a perfect opportunity to grow, learn, and improve your player skills.