Written By Chad Kearns
Published on August 16, 2023
Change is hard.
Culture change within organizations can be extremely difficult, time-intensive, and straining for both leaders and core team members alike.
But oftentimes, culture change is needed. And the impact of building an engaging and strong workplace culture is substantial.
Organizational culture can erode for many reasons, and it’s vital that effective leaders build the right culture within the organization they lead.
How to Drive Culture Change
But how can a leader or a leadership team go about changing their organizational culture? Start here:
Acknowledge Culture Change is Needed and Possible
Your organization’s culture doesn’t feel right.
Something’s off or, even worse, it’s broken. As a leader, spend some time documenting the pain points you’re seeing, feeling, and hearing. Capturing the issues in the moment is an important step in recognizing and confirming that change is needed.
High employee turnover, unengaged team members, unhappy customers, and stagnant growth among other signs are common outcomes of organizations with poor workplace culture.
Collect Baseline Organizational Culture Metrics
Consider the metrics or quantitative ways to measure your team’s culture and productivity. The Fired Up! Culture Annual Index is trusted by hundreds of organizations to collect a quantitative look at how team members are engaged (or not) with core elements that build workplace culture.
Other metrics that can be captured to measure engagement around organizational culture include:
- Team member retention and tenure figures
- Team member happiness scores
- Productivity metrics
- Customer satisfaction data
Find the right mix of metrics that works best for you. What’s important is to identify a piece or two of data that you can look back on to measure movement (and growth!) during the change management process.
Craft your Organizational Culture Vision
Time to get aspirational and craft the vision of your dream culture.
Think about the purpose of your organization, or desired behaviors, traits, and competencies of the people that are a part of your dream culture. Consider what the true future priorities of the organization should be. Reflect on your organization’s current and future mission, vision, and values.
Build your Culture Change Strategy
An aspirational vision is needed but an intentional strategy is required for effective culture change.
Build your plan with a couple of time segments in mind. What needs to get done in the next 18 months? 12 months? 6 months? 90 days? 30 days?
The shorter the timeline, the more detailed you need to be.
Objects and Key Results (OKRs) are a great management framework to connect your vision to what needs to be accomplished, when it needs to be done, and what the expected outcomes should be.
Communicate your Vision and Strategy (as appropriate!)
People tend to be resistant to change, but enacting that change will be easier in your organization when your team understands the vision, knows what is changing before it changes, and understands why change is happening.
Communication (as appropriate!) is crucial in the culture change process. Communicating frequently, clearly, and with empathy keeps leaders on the right track to win their team and organization over as change occurs.
Way easier said than done.
Effective culture change can take many different forms, but after leaders acknowledge that change is needed, collect baseline metrics, craft their vision, build a plan, and communicate what’s to come, it’s time to put your strategy into action, implement, and drive change.
Cultural change can take so many different forms of action depending on the unique needs and path forward of an organization. New policies could be introduced, new benefits could be added, new roles could be opened up for hiring, reluctant or change-adverse team members could be leaving the organization (voluntarily or involuntarily), and new values could be set – the opportunity for leaders to implement change is endless. And there is no one-size-fits-all formula for the right organizational culture
Each organization’s culture change will look and feel different depending on where they are starting, where they are working to go, and the resources they have to drive change.
Regardless, implement and implement ruthlessly. See your vision and strategy through.
Manage Emotions and Ask for Feedback
I’ll continue to drive this home: change is hard!
Change is hard and your team members (even you yourself) will experience different levels of morale as change occurs.
Managing emotions and the stages your team will go through during culture change is crucial. Asking for feedback from team members is a great way to open up a conversation.
Commit to Traction
Culture change doesn’t happen overnight. It happens when the change management process is diligently carried out and the changes made gain traction and are woven into the accepted norms of the organization.
That happens with buy-in from senior leaders. That happens with discipline to continue working towards the stated vision. That happens with building the structure, processes, and procedures required to instill new norms.
Stick. With. It. And the change leaders bring will eventually become a part of the organization’s DNA.
Too often, change is introduced but it doesn’t become a part of the culture.
Remember those baseline metrics you collected at the start of the culture change process?
Down the road, there’s an opportunity to re-collect the same data you collected when the change management process began.
Monitoring metrics over the course of culture change initiatives is incredibly important to understanding if what you’re doing is working or if adjustments need to be made. Furthermore, as metrics improve, that change becomes a powerful talking point for leadership to celebrate organizationally.
Celebrate Success and Culture Change
As positive change occurs, acknowledge it with your team and celebrate!
Talk about initiatives that brought change. Talk about outcomes that are trending positively (remember you have metrics now). Talk about the process and commitment required from everyone to make this change possible. Talk about how these changes directly impact team members at every level of the organization.
Effective Culture Change Drives Organizations Forward
A strong, engaging workplace culture has the ability to drive fundamental business outcomes that any executive leader should be striving for.
Happier and healthier employees lead to creative innovation and better customer outcomes which drives financial stability and growth.
While some organizational cultures are built organically, most take intentional work and effective change management to grow. As executive leaders work through the change management process, following these ten keys will help drive the culture they’ve always dreamed of.
Chad spent 10+ years in the digital agency space, leading a 45+ person digital marketing agency through multiple mergers and acquisitions before joining the Fired-Up! team. He’s built new service lines from the ground up, developed leaders and executives to empower talented workforces, and engaged teams to drive remarkable business growth all within the agency and consulting arena.