5 crucial elements of culture transformation

To improve a company’s ethos and workplace environment, leaders must link goals to business objectives. Executives must also lead by example.

If changing your company culture were as simple as waving a magic wand, the world would be full of well-run organizations with ecstatic, energized employees.

It’s a pleasant thought, at least.

Here in the real world, culture is the manifestation of what is really valued at a company. It exposes the true hierarchy of priorities. Thus, change demands time, dedication and strategy—and often a significant reordering of priorities.

There’s no magic culture wand, but here are five ingredients that can ensure your cultural transformation efforts succeed:

1. Linking strategy and culture. Executives must understand the link between culture and business objectives. Many treat culture as a byproduct or an irrelevant side issue. A company’s culture can have a massive impact on productivity, morale and profits, but there must be a data-driven connection between the two. A positive, purposeful culture will not endure if it isn’t intrinsically linked to business goals.

2. Focus. Narrow and identify what you want your culture transformation to achieve. Choose a few key behaviors, metrics and meaningful activities you’d like to reinforce and measure. Make your plan specific, measurable and manageable. Whittle your focus and vision so it’s not overwhelming or cumbersome.

3. Reality and rhetoric. Culture change is nuanced, but it doesn’t have to be abstract. It involves casting the vision, engaging hearts and minds, and ensuring that workers’ day-to-day experiences align with your rhetoric. Don’t move too quickly. Communicate in line with the pace at which your leaders can change behavior. Also, find and promote internal role models who can push your messaging among their colleagues.

4. Leaders, leading by example. Leaders influence culture through their own behavior and through the behaviors they encourage, discourage or tolerate. Substantive change will never take place if it’s all just lip service. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut it.

5. Systemic change. Company cultures are created by unspoken messages conveyed through behaviors, symbols and systems. Culture transformation, therefore, requires a reckoning with the behaviors, attitudes and messages that fuel the established culture. Leaders must address—and repair—these underlying issues before substantive transformation can occur.

A version of this post first appeared on Walking the Talk.


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