08 Jun Culture Change is a Marathon Not a Sprint
Change. It’s such a simple word. We change tires. We change clothes. We change baby diapers. We change the pillows on our sofas. Sometimes we change our names or where we live. Often its quick and painless. This could be why when clients call us for help with assessing and changing culture, they are surprised by the deep commitment it takes. But to change is to also transform – to make radically different – which is not quick and painless. Changing organizational culture is a delicate balance between art and science, and varies greatly on a case by case basis. What works for one group may not work for the next. It’s not a check-the-box exercise. Culture change starts with looking at leadership and employee mindsets and behaviors, reviewing your systems and your processes to see what’s working, then developing a clear strategy that builds on existing strengths.
Culture change starts with looking at leadership and employee mindsets and behaviors, your systems and your processes to see what’s working, then developing a clear strategy that builds on existing strengths.
Being intentional with cultivating a positive culture attracts top talent, boosts engagement and productivity, lowers turnover rates, and develops a resilient and agile mindset to address challenges both internal and external. The list of reasons why company culture matters goes on and on, and the numbers speak for themselves. Studies show that companies with strong cultures experience an average of 400% increase in revenue growth. That said, if the plan is about culture change for bottom line impact, the change matters as much as the financial gain. It’s not just a means to an end.
Being intentional with cultivating a positive culture attracts top talent, boosts engagement and productivity, lowers turnover rate, and develops a resilient/agile mindset to address challenges both internal and external.
While a lot of organizations look to their leader(s) to pave the way, the success of culture change actually lies in the hands of the whole and not the one. An organization’s culture is hardly ever the result of one person, but rather the cumulative effect of the norms, actions, and behaviors we allow every day. Of course, the leadership team sets the tone and spreads the spirit, but culture is a bottoms up, side to side culmination where every individual contributes to the experiences. This reality was recently underscored in our work with a client whose organization had a few deep-rooted culture issues. The culture assessment pointed to areas of toxic behaviors within a large division in the organization. The CEO thought the remedy was simple – get rid of that leader and the problems would go away. Unfortunately, the toxic norms and behaviors had been adopted by many of the people in that division – and while they rejected and complained about the leader – they had also employed those same tactics as a way to survive. Moving the leader on from the organization was just the first step – the dedicated work to articulate why the behaviors were happening, change mindsets, build new capabilities and behaviors, and encourage and reward those new behaviors happened over many months.
An organization’s culture is hardly ever the result of one person, but rather the cumulative effect of the norms, actions, and behaviors we allow every day.
How can you make culture transformation stick?
1. Use coaching to shift mindsets and overcome resistance
In our experience helping teams develop and sustain their change goals, we regularly run into resistance from employees and leaders. Resistance is a normal part of the change process. It’s natural for employees to be uncomfortable with change and the new way of being. Some employees view the change process as extra work or a waste of time. If employees stay stuck in that mindset it becomes a problem and can hold back the entire team. That’s why we like to embed individual, team and group coaching in our culture transformation work. Coaching gives people the opportunity to become more self-aware and understand the drivers to manage the change journey that’s ahead. And, when leaders believe in the change and model it, they are more likely to get buy in from others along the way. Leaders who get it, who articulate the “why” around the change, act as powerful motivators.
2. Set a marathon pace for the change
One of the biggest obstacles to culture change is impatience for the process. You and your team members may have to learn new skills or ways of doing things, some of which may feel hard or uncomfortable. As in any area of life, or running a marathon, workplace change takes patience and persistence. As in any area of life, or running a marathon, workplacechange takes patience and persistence. Studies show it can take “anywhere from 8 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.” Sometimes changing our ways is hard and occasionally there’s an inclination to not do it. It requires a commitment to practice, and an understanding that results won’t always be immediate. You don’t go to the gym for a week and expect to meet your fitness goals. You have to stick with it, and continue to make the time. Similarly, culture change is not achieved by the click of your heels or the snap of your fingers or simply checking the box.
3. Drive accountability at all levels, consistently
Holding each and every team member accountable is tricky but crucial. Accountability is one of the most often talked about but least often implemented practices. Accountability starts with developing a plan, articulating goals, sharing expectations and implementing tangible, regular checkpoints along the way. But, accountability is also about having open, candid conversations and telling it like it is. It’s about being clear about the new behaviors and norms and having honest conversations with those that are resisting the change. Sometimes the right thing to do is to help someone move on from your organization, because keeping them creates a demoralizing culture as well as undermines the transformation you are seeking. Accountability comes to life through the reinforcing mechanisms you have in your organization’s talent programs (think: performance management, compensation, promotion processes, or incentive programs), your policies, how you run meetings and make decisions.
If you don’t see immediate change, it’s important not to let this lag be discouraging. Sustained culture change takes time. Your organization will benefit from going into the process with an understanding that this is a long game, and the timeline looks different for everyone.
Stay tuned for our next blog to learn the number one secret to success when it comes to developing and sustaining a healthy, modern workplace culture.
We love to talk about making culture change happen! If your team needs help getting started, don’t wait, schedule a conversation to learn more!
The Silverene Group is a boutique culture consultancy that helps companies align their people programs with business goals. These blogs are a combined effort between The Silverene Group’s founder, Shaara Roman, and the rest of the team.