What Impacts an Organization’s Culture?
What’s driving the culture of your organization? The consulting and training team at The CLEMMER Group is asked this question on a regular basis. Organizations appear to be looking for the secret ingredient that will ensure employees perform at their best (quality, safety, productivity, innovation…) and, most importantly, continue working at that level.
We encounter many organizations that now include culture change and improving their work environment as key initiatives. Of course many of these initiatives come preloaded with an extremely high ‘snicker factor’ as those who propose them often underestimate the effort it takes to develop culture change and fail to adequately plan for the bumpy road leading to successful change. The demands of the business are most often cited as the reason for dropped or delayed culture change initiatives. However, this is often just an excuse for not fully understanding what impacts the ability of an organization to change.
In its simplest form, culture can be described with the following diagram and descriptions:
Attitude: What most people choose to believe or say about their work and environment.
Behavior: How people choose to act interpersonally and whether they choose to consistently deliver the desired results.
Systems and Processes: The effectiveness and ease of using the systems and processes people interact with on a daily basis.
The culture of an organization is the sum total of the common attitudes and beliefs held by people based on their experiences. These experiences then influence the behavior and willingness of everyone to work with or against the systems and processes. Whether you recognize it or not, every organization has a culture. With effort, that culture can become the one you design or it can evolve based on people’s positive or negative experiences.
When organizations consider culture change most of them do a fairly good job planning for the three impacts on culture described above. They start by defining the mission and values – and how people should talk about the organization (attitude). They will often come with a new set of behaviors (competencies) and put together a lengthy list of processes to work on to make them more effective or reduce waste. Planning the change is relatively easy. All too often though, efforts to change a culture often don’t last or take hold and this keeps the skepticism high about future change efforts.
The one key factor that determines whether culture change will happen is leadership. Leadership attitudes, behaviors and practices are often discussed as areas for improvement while planning culture change. But once plans are ready for implementation, being able to attain real leadership improvement seems to be the single biggest challenge, as leaders have the biggest impact on the final outcome of culture change.
Culture change typically comes down to whether people see a difference in their leadership team. Why? Leaders broadcast the messages to everyone else about what is really important to them and what they believe is important to the organization. If what people see and hear is different than what they are told should be happening, is change really possible? If the leadership practices are no different, then why would the culture be any different?
In our practice, we understand the importance of leaders shifting attitudes and actions in order to attain culture change. Yet, these types of changes are often underestimated or even resisted. It’s important for an organization to have a clear understanding of the changes in attitudes that are specifically needed from leaders. Are the leaders even the right ones to go through the change? How will leaders behave differently (visibility, communication, approachability, dealing with performance…)? Will leaders truly support people as they change the way they do their work?
On your journey towards making the type of organization you want for the future, consider whether you have given your change effort a good chance for success. Strong leaders are the difference. If they don’t buy into the plan and understand how they can change, no one will ever believe that real culture change is expected or even possible.
Five part series on Culture Change: