Your corporate culture is the collective pattern of values, behaviors, and unwritten rules of your organization— in other words, it’s the collective Frame of Reference for your organization. Others can copy your products and services. Others can even imitate your marketing. But no other company can replicate your organization’s culture. Your culture is what makes you… you.
Keep in mind “culture” has nothing to do with policies, procedures, manuals…. those things are “above the water line.” Culture is much more about what goes on “below the water line.” What’s valued? What does it take to be successful? What are the rules of the road for surviving and thriving in your organization?
Culture is Powerful and Reinforcing
When major, enterprise-wide changes such as Shared Services, ERP Implementations, Business Transformation, or Lean/Six Sigma, are introduced into an organization, they are cultural changes. And if these implementations directly conflict with your current culture (and most of them will), your culture is going to win. Every time. Don Harrison, developer of the AIM change management framework, makes the analogy to a Pac-Man. Culture eats change, just as the little yellow Pac-Man eats the dots on the screen.
Not only is culture as powerful as a Pac-Man… it is also self-reinforcing. In our AIM change management training, we get people’s attention when we ask, ”Do you know your organization is perfectly designed?”
It’s true. Your culture is perfectly designed to maintain the status-quo. Why? Because the current reinforcements you have in place have created exactly what you have today. In other words, leaders are naturally inclined to reinforce the culture that made them successful in the first place.
This is why we say, when you come across a change that goes against the grain of your culture, you have two choices; you can change the change, or you can change the culture. So, choose wisely because changing your culture is tough work and it is a long journey.
5 Strategies to Drive Culture Change
If your leaders have decided to change your culture, it is going to take a whole lot more than putting out a new slogan and creating a new vision and mission statement. And, contrary to popular belief, you won’t be able to train your way to a new culture! Sending people to a series of workshops on your new values and beliefs is not going to cut it!
Instead, here are some specific tactics and strategies based on the Accelerating Implementation Management (AIM) that will help you increase the likelihood of culture change success.
- Use a structured change management methodology such as AIM to build an Implementation Plan to ensure the human elements of the culture change are being managed in a disciplined way.
- Identify the behaviors “you seek to see” as you move to the new culture. Remember, culture change can’t be accomplished through a list of corporate-speak platitudes— the new behaviors must be identified for each Target group impacted by the culture change.
- Make certain you have Sponsors who are actively committed to the change (not just offering lip-service) and are willing to apply consequences for non-compliance with the new values.
- Develop skilled Change Agents who can implement the culture change. If you have too few Agents, or Agents don’t have credibility and influence in the right areas of the organization, your chances for success will be limited.
- Change the Reinforcements. Reinforcement is the most powerful weapon you have for implementing a new culture. The new reinforcements need to be radically different from your current reinforcements, because those are what have gotten you where you are today.
Our Advice? Start on a Small Scale
If you are facing a culture change in your organization, we strongly recommend you do it by applying the change to 1 or 2 strategic initiatives first. Then you can use the capacity you built for that project to drive new values and behaviors into the next strategic initiative.
Look for small but highly visible ways to demonstrate the new culture by asking your Sponsors to do different things. It's really amazing how people will pick up on these differences, or what we call "psychological cues." For instance, it may be the way a Sponsor announces a change. If the Sponsor always uses email, don't use email for this announcement. Remember, Sponsor actions are far more important than Sponsor words.
Culture change is not an easy thing to do. It requires more than a vision statement—you need specific Sponsorship, Readiness, Communication, and Reinforcement strategies that fundamentally change the way your organization does work, each and every day. Are you facing a culture change? Is your organization prepared for the hard work involved?