Culture – it lives in your organization with deeply rooted implications to your business or nonprofit. Yet many have no feel for the realities of their culture or how it may be impacting their strategy. There are five key considerations that will serve to determine the status of your culture and help to move it along.
Business owners and nonprofit leaders are often surprised to learn their perception of culture and the reality of the view from the trenches differs drastically. In fact, it is usually one of the major problems impeding cultural change. The perception shortcomings and the inability to align the culture with strategy are the two glaring issues organizations face. Here are five simple considerations that can make the difference.
So what is your culture? Many organizations make cultural assessments via employee surveys, outside focus groups, and independent interviews. A few organizations have even utilized a trusted member of the ranks to provide information that could be helpful. Some have assessments facilitated by an independent party, which provides some anonymity to the process. Whatever manner chosen, you need to be certain the assessment is accurate and untainted before making rash decisions about a cultural change or shift perceived to help with strategic alignment. Once you think you have a good feel for it – test the result. Float a trial balloon, and give permission for it to be shot down by someone who gets it. Once you have a confidence level for where your culture rests, only then will it be time to consider changes to facilitate a much needed culture shift. Keep in mind, it is never easy.
Need for Change
Before embarking on the journey ask yourself: Why do we want to change the culture, and how can it be implemented? Some businesses have a long list of cultural traits they would like to embody. Often, the aspirations are nebulous or provide no distinct differentiation between their business and their competitor. Culture is certainly worth the effort, but the desired traits needs to be exemplary and well aligned. Employees will quickly work toward the vision given clear direction, and just as quickly see through a façade or leaders whose actions are inconsistent with the expectations. As you set out on this course of change in culture, recall the quote that states “people don’t resist change, they resist being changed.” If one can be a part of the change, rather than having it forced upon them, they are much more likely to become supportive and an early implementer. So how will you genuinely involve those impacted and help provide the line of sight that clarifies the need for change?
When Drucker said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” it was not just a quip. Your strategy may seem like the best in the field until it meets the culture of the organization. Quite frankly, if a strategy is at odds with the company’s culture, it is doomed to fail. Now is the time to ask if the strategy needs to change to fit the culture or if the culture is somewhat flawed and needs to adapt to the new strategy. The former may be appropriate if your customers respond positively to the existing culture. Should the latter be the case, then you need to be prepared to dedicate significant resources for taking genuine steps toward a new day. Improper alignment may not always be obvious from the inside. An objective third party can more easily spot the incongruence because they have no history, baggage or attachment to either party of the change.
Take some time to envision what your organization will look like as it functions under the parameters of the new culture and with standard behaviors. You cannot simply leave the old culture in the dust because the staff will not respond well if you try. In all likelihood, there are aspects of the existing culture that can be saved and will serve the new direction well. In fact, doing so will give more credibility to your efforts and allow those involved to see that consideration has been given to the values present in the existing culture. Start slow as you attempt to implement new cultural standards and check the pulse often along the way. Once you are on the course of change, dwelling on the negative aspects of the existing culture simply bogs down the chance for advancement. Implementing just a few critical shifts in behavior that align with the strategic vision will help build a strong foundation for the new culture. Celebrate those successes.
Organizations frequently underestimate the resources needed for communication when seeking a successful cultural shift. The roles need to be clarified and may require the appointment of a respected change agent. The “why” and “how” of the changes need to be communicated continually and will impact your strategy and the organization’s future. Surveys, focus groups, informal “quick polls” and closed group social media channels all can be used to gauge the progress and provide a fun element to the communication. Leaders tend to focus on the formal and rational moves necessary for success, while ignoring the informal and more emotional pieces of the change. If you do not have the ability to see the latter, then you better involve someone who can. Provide broad reaching forums for feedback and measurement and create an atmosphere of open dialogue to keep communication channels open. Bridge any and all gaps which may exist and impede the progress to the other side.
We all know it is not unusual for culture to become a scapegoat for those in a position to effect change. We refer to that as the “shadow side” of culture. However, there is the “sunny side” where the existing culture can become the catalyst for major change, innovation and growth. This happens when culture is valued for what it is and given the proper attention it deserves.
The five steps may seem simple, but a culture change is not. It will take significant time to implement successfully while integrating the desired strategies. Start now or you will continue to run up against the same barriers you have seen for years.