Changing an organizational culture is never achieved by only designing a creative event or workshop to inspire leadership of the desired change.
For some, the temptation of designing a culture change workshop and hoping that this carries momentum, is too enticing to resist. Effort is placed into designing innovative and high-impact activities that it is hoped will bring about transformation. Only too often, these high-cost and high-profile events deliver hype and not culture change.
In essence there is nothing wrong with culture change workshops, but these need to be considered as part of an integrated program that impacts the DNA of the organization for change to be lasting.
The model of changing culture provided by Connors and Smith in Change the Culture shows the deeply embedded activities that need to be considered, i.e. results, actions, beliefs, experiences.
When planning a culture change program, attention needs to be given to all parts of the organization. These include leadership, processes, and day-to-day practices. Starting from the top is always the most appropriate first step, given that leaders are ultimately accountable for the culture of the organization.
Leaders need to know “why” the culture needs to change. Without this beacon of purpose, culture change lacks meaning and impact. Embracing the reason for culture change is often triggered by the need for greater competitiveness, differentiation, diversification, or integration. Sometimes this occurs post-merger, or frequently to build cohesion following numerous acquisitions. It can be instigated to achieve business advantage or sometimes to address a high attrition rate. Whatever the reason, leaders need to have a passionate and authentic story to tell the organization and every stakeholder. Just to embark on a culture change program because it’s what many organizations are doing, is no reason to invest in this type of initiative.
Conducting assessments and reviewing organizational analytics are often part of a culture change program. These activities can be very helpful in understanding the data that lies at the root of why changes are necessary. They are possibly the easiest part of a culture change program. It’s not hard to inspect data. It is however much more challenging knowing what to do about it.
Leaders often need to change the way they communicate and lead in general. Most of all, leaders need to coach and engage employees in a manner that gains their trust, discretionary effort, and belief. When leaders lead well, employees are engaged. When employees are valued, rewarded, and empowered, the energy in an organization is palpable.
The best culture change programs are well thought out initiatives that span the whole organization and which also address the processes that underpin the operating model. The best laid plans need to be defined from the get-go, not incrementally defined as the process gathers momentum. Engaging employees from the inception of a culture change program, communicating openly, and investing in actions that do indeed speak louder than words, is a great combination for achieving culture change.
Culture is often defined as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization”. The emphasis of “shared” sets the tone for an integrated culture change program where everyone is involved, impacted, and inspired.