Often, executives want to improve the culture in their business unit. Yet many experience a sense of helpless because they feel the only way they can do this is to change the structures, systems and processes in the organization over which they have little control. While organizational design can have a large and sometimes negative impact, there are things you can do to really make a strong and positive difference. Take the case of Lisa:
“I’d like to talk to you about a big project,” Lisa began over coffee that morning. “We’re supposed to achieve these ‘stretch’ goals, and frankly, unless we change the culture in our department, I don’t know how we are going to do it.”
- Over-communicate the goals! As Lisa had mentioned, many of her employees had no clue about the department’s direction. She made those crystal clear and was not afraid to over-communicate them, using the “7 X 7 rule.” This rule states: If you want people to get the message, communicate it seven times in seven different ways!!
- Engage employees in discussions about the culture — now and in the future:Using a carefully selected set of 15 photographs, we found the employees immediately started to talk about behaviors, beliefs and practices that reflected the current culture of the department. Working in groups, each team selected a picture that represented the current state and one which represented the kind of future state they believed would help them accomplish their goals. These discussions started to build a collective passion for culture change.Example Photos
Current:Firefighting Desired:Focused Teamwork
- Narrow the focus to the few critical behaviors and practices that need to change.After the photo exercise, it was natural to ask the team to identify the kinds of practices and behaviors that needed to be changed if the department goals were to be achieved. We facilitated this process by using a set of 44 cards, each representing a cultural practice and behavioral statements. These cards are based on extensive research of corporate culture and organizational effectiveness.
Examples of Cultural Practices and Behaviors
Additional discussions led to the identification and prioritization of the most important practices to change if the department was going to achieve its goals.
- Develop action plans to implement the behaviors and practices.Specific action plans — tactics, timelines and champions — were developed and implemented by the employees. Lisa held frequent meetings to monitor progress and to recognize and reward the good work that was being accomplished.
- Give particular attention to the formal and informal leaders. Lisa also focused on the behavior of the formal and informal leaders who serve as exemplars for others. Few employees believe what they read or what they hear, so memos, instructions, wall plaques and the like are of little value. They will only believe what they see. Change the behavior of the people to whom they look for their examples.
As is always the case, a few people did not like the “new” culture and left … the ones that most people were hoping would leave. On the other hand, Lisa’s department developed a new sense of pride and energy as it made its way along the road to becoming one of the highest performing departments in the company!