29 Jun The Secret Ingredient to Culture Change: Being Intentional
In our last blog we talked about navigating culture change, but what we didn’t get to is the most important factor when it comes to change strategy. While culture is about how every team member shows up at work, and patience and practice are essentials to the change journey, intentionality is the real key ingredient.
Each organization is unique, and you can’t just “copy” another company’s culture and expect it to work at your place.
What do Salesforce, Accenture, Wegman’s, Capital One, and Zappos, have in common? They all have a fantastic workplace culture that people want to copy. But the problem with that is that culture is made up of the people and systems and purpose of a company. Each organization is unique, and you can’t just “copy” another company’s culture and expect it to work at your place. Sure, there are common elements of a great workplace culture – and we’ve talked about that before in many of our other blogs – things like inclusive leadership, authenticity, psychological safety, and so on. But how they come to life in an organization is where the secret sauce is.
A few years ago, one of our clients was struggling to build a culture of innovation. They knew they needed to rethink their technology strategy and be more agile to respond to their client needs. So, they did what they thought would drive creativity and innovative practices – they installed a game room with foosball, ping pong, snacks, and the like. One of their executives had read that Google and other innovative techy-type companies had these things, so they figured it would work for them. But it had not worked – in fact, no one was even using the game room.
We found out about the game room accidentally. The CEO had brought us in to coach her executive team. As part of the team coaching process, we did a series of interviews and focus groups, and we uncovered that there were a lot of blockers within their culture that were inhibiting innovation. The CEO and her executive team had not realized that there were challenges with their culture and that simply installing a game room wasn’t going to make the employees innovative. Employees didn’t feel comfortable using the room because they felt they were “judged” for taking time away from work. Despite games being made available, there was still a stigma around ‘goofing off’. Many of their bosses didn’t think work was getting done and frowned upon those that took time away from their desk. Some staff even got feedback that they shouldn’t be seen playing around during the day. This organization’s leaders had not thought with intentionality around their culture, their values and what reinforcing mechanisms they needed to put in place to shift mindsets and behaviors to be creative, to experiment, to take risks, to collaborate and to do it while having fun and building relationships. They had a culture that had valued “face-time,” that measured success by when you came to the office and when you left. They rewarded people for being right and for getting “stuff done.” Simply adding a game room wasn’t going to change that.
When you decide that you want to shift your culture, it’s important to be really clear about what you’re looking to do, why you’re looking to do it, and how you’ll know that you’ve accomplished it.
When you decide that you want to shift your culture, it’s important to be really clear about what you’re looking to do, why you’re looking to do it, and how you’ll know that you’ve accomplished it. We were able to partner with our client to define their aspirational culture, map out new values and behaviors, define how innovation was a part of their future success, and what needed to shift in terms of mindsets and actions to make the new culture a reality. We also helped them rethink their talent programs to enable this new culture. Signs of success manifested as a change in language, attitudes, behaviors, systems, and processes.
Leaders are the key conduits of culture.
Leaders are the key conduits of culture and if they aren’t intentional about the new culture then there’s not much chance of success. It’s important for leaders to communicate expectations and beliefs as well as role model the values so that they can shape the aspirational culture. Otherwise, the culture that lives within the employees will continue to perpetuate. Open communication also helps to underscore the intentions you have for your company culture and reinforces accountability across all levels. With our client, we combined the leadership team coaching with the culture work so that the leaders could own and drive the culture and sustain it well beyond our exit.
What gets measured gets done.
As we always say, what gets measured gets done. In order for a culture change strategy to be effective, it has to have clear goals and measurable indicators of success. Values and actions need to be clearly defined and written down in order to be continually upheld. This means setting tangible goals, recording what works/doesn’t work, having regular self-assessments and a regular cadence to check in with staff using interviews, focus groups, and surveys. This multi-faceted assessment methodology provides insight into how different groups of people – whether its across gender, race, age, tenure, geography, etc, experience the culture. This element of data gathering is crucial. If it’s not done, there’s no way to know if you’re on the right path, and the culture is in danger of going off the rails because not everyone buys into it.
When you’re intentional about your culture change journey, you can more easily move your strategy forward by getting everyone on the same page.
When you’re intentional about your culture change journey, you can more easily move your strategy forward by getting everyone on the same page. Change sticks when the organization maintains the strategy, fosters the new culture with intentionality, and keeps up with the measurement systems in place.
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.