How to Influence Culture Change: Two Experts Speak Out


Whether it’s a response to the global pandemic, the Great Resignation, or the rise of the socially responsible consumer, organizational culture is now a major factor in business success. Business leaders, employees and consumers no longer just ask, “How good is the product?” They also ask: “What is the culture of the company?” »

While the focus on culture is a positive development, it should not be confused with branding or viewed as a recruitment and retention tool. While culture shapes a company’s identity, it’s not just the image it wants to project. Similarly, while a positive culture attracts talent and increases employee satisfaction, it is not an added benefit to the business. modus operandi. Both of these fallacies fundamentally misunderstand culture because they conceive of it as something external to how employees engage with each other and the company as a whole.

When leaders think culture is separate and distinct from how people work together, they give culture too much power over the status quo be able to make changes. To paraphrase Peter Drucker’s so-called expression, this vision of culture will eat any new strategy for breakfast.

When conceived as an external “playbook,” culture assumes an authority that demands its overthrow or accommodation. For example, companies looking for a culture change will think about writing a new playbook, i.e. replacing the current culture with a new one. When they want to incorporate new practices or behaviors, they wonder if such an introduction can even be successful. given the current culture.

In a sense, the playbook metaphor is useful – culture seems to provide context for how people interpret the actions of others (and their own). But people don’t make sense of actions by looking at the company manual (which they may have read once when they were onboarded). They infer it through the experiences people have with each other. When actions and reactions repeat themselves, we begin to expect them to go together. It’s Pavlovian, not a cultural imposition.

Culture change happens when people’s behaviors change enough that they are communicating something different than what they were doing before. As Melissa Daimler says in her new book, ReCulture: Design your company culture to connect with strategy and purpose for sustainable success“Culture is how work happens between people. It’s every interaction that happens, every decision that’s made, whether in person or remotely. It’s what we do, not what That we have. ”

For example, if a company instituted a new DEI policy, but day-to-day interactions remained virtually the same, employees would interpret the new policy as a way to signal a value rather than adopt it. Politics wouldn’t change the playbook even if it changed the manual. People will not expect anything different from what they expected before. This is not a culture consumption strategy. This is a failure of proper implementation.

Roger Martin explains in his new book, A New Way of Thinking: Your Guide to Superior Management Effectiveness, “When executives attempt to change the culture of an organization, they often use the wrong tools to get the job done: changes to formal processes and systems accompanied by stark warnings… To achieve real culture change, managers Executives need to focus on how they structure the structure and exercise discipline. human interactions that make up an organization’s working day. Martin recounts a time when he was working for culture change with P&G. Rather than suggesting formal changes to meeting agendas and scheduling, he changed the way meetings would run. while he drove them. By striving to ensure a different format and continually reinforcing, through the way he ran the meetings, that their purpose was not to present but rather to discuss and explore ideas, he rewrote the standards and expectations of these meetings. He created a new “playbook” without any change in policy. Moreover, he transformed the culture by taking a direct interest in the behaviors of employees and what they communicated with each other.

Daimler, once again, says it well: “We cannot set expectations of How? ‘Or’ What to work (culture) without defining what we are working on (the strategy). Strategy, in this sense, is not just a plan to develop a product for the market. It can also be a plan to achieve an internal goal. That’s not to say that culture is a byproduct of a good strategy, but it does mean that they fit together in a very specific way. Both require actions and interactions to be clearly defined so that people understand what is expected of them, not only in what they accomplish but also in how they accomplish it with other people.

To be effective, leaders who want to have an impact on culture change must go into the details. Decisions should focus on the operational components of day-to-day interactions as well as the big goals. It is not enough to say what you want to achieve. You also need to clearly communicate what success looks like in practice. Moreover, leaders must communicate it through their own behavior. Linking specific behaviors to organizational values ​​and embedding those behaviors into processes that reinforce them will help clarify what is expected of employees and what they communicate when working with colleagues.


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