Steps to Culture Change

Can you adequately plan for the impact of attaining the culture changes you’re trying to achieve? We focus on the impact of leaders because they, more than anyone, are responsible for the culture that exists throughout an organization. If change agents fail to recognize and anticipate how well leaders are willing to accept a change in the organizations culture then the whole process will take much longer.

The CLEMMER Group uses a relatively simple but effective model to work through the steps that help organizations get the results they need.
Culture Change

Over these five parts, we will explore each of the steps in detail. In this article we will provide an overview of what you can expect.

Step 1 – Mission, Vision, Values Awareness

It’s more and more common for organizations to have a clear, short, and meaningful statement of mission, vision and values. The days of long statements are over. The most effective statements are short and memorable. Something everyone can reflect on without having to look it up. Even so, organizations may spend a lot of time considering what they stand for, but don’t usually achieve the momentum to use those statements to drive change throughout their culture.

Although mission and vision are important aspects of what an organization stands for, it’s the values which actually describe to your people the culture throughout the organization. We quite often hear people in organizations have difficulty believing in or seeing the values expressed in everyday worklife. If people in an organization don’t see declared values in action then the whole process has really become little more than an interesting bureaucratic paper exercise.

To determine the level of awareness and support for an organizations values, we look for 3 broad components:

  1. Can people see themselves in your statements? Can they see how your statements fit with their job? Has a link been drawn to how each individual can support and fulfill the intent of the organization’s values?
  2. Can people see evidence in daily behaviours and decisions made by the organization – through its policies and practices or through its leaders interactions. Both of these signals whether values are important?
  3. Does the organization publicize and communicate its values in multiple forums? Are values talked about and displayed in a way that gives meaning while promoting how employees can express them everyday?

Essentially, we look for how aware people are of an organizations values, and what the true meaning or perceived importance of those values are. Does the organization take the time to promote how living the mission and values will make a difference to everyone in the organization?

Step 2 – Business Practices to Support Culture

A significant part of creating the culture you desire comes from the experiences people have with core business practices. For instance, if the organization values teamwork, what business practices can people experience or rely on that would give them the on-going belief that teamwork is important?

  • Are decisions made top-down?
  • Is everyone involved in decisions affecting their work?
  • Are communications sporadic?
  • Are communications provided as information rather than soliciting input?

In the scenarios listed above, how would teamwork actually be considered a value people can see and experience? Are there clear business practices your organization has in place to support what it SAYS it stands for? It’s quite simple to look at each of the values in your organization and see for yourself whether your team, and others in the organization, are supporting them.

One of our Client’s values was ‘customer first’. However, through an awareness evaluation we conducted, it was found that the way they talked about customers demonstrated little respect for them. Customers were actually viewed as a problem! We challenged this particular Client to develop core business practices related to the customer that were highly visibility and involved people throughout the organization. Since they were in the third party distribution business, one business practice they were able to develop was to link their shippers and the customer’s receivers to ensure the quality of the load, accuracy, and also get input for improvements. Along with reporting back to the entire distribution center, the shipping team developed a visit program with customer receivers. Of course they did customer surveying as part of their business practices, but more importantly, they made sure the direct link with the customer was understood and felt at the front-line with their shipping team and throughout the distribution center. They developed other business practices related to the customer value but their first activities became part of the front-line team and built a lot more accountability, and in the end, respect for their customer.

There should be a direct link with the core business practices that go towards supporting the values of the organization. Ask yourself how you see business practices supporting your values through highly visible, highly impactful business practices.

Step 3 – Leader Behaviors

There are a lot of competency models for leadership. We try to separate the skills from essential behaviors to build a desired culture. For each of your organizations values, ask yourself what behaviors leaders need to show on a daily basis for people to feel they are living up to what the organization stands for? So, if teamwork is a value and communication is one element of developing teamwork, consider the behaviors needed from leaders on a daily basis to build communication that fosters teamwork. We typically see 10 to 15 leadership actions or behaviors that are essential to living the values. Are your leaders clear about what those are? Can people see their leaders demonstrate those behaviors on a regular basis? This doesn’t mean competency models aren’t important. We just want to show the link between leader behaviors with the values and that the desired culture is connected to what people observe in their leaders.

Developing the core leader behaviors is relatively easy. However, we find most organizations don’t let their leaders know how their behavior contributes to bringing values to life throughout the organization. Making the behaviors of leaders connect to an organizations values emphasizes what is truly important for building a desired culture.

Step 4 – Employee Behaviors

Only after people see business practices and leadership behavior supporting an organization’s values, can we expect employees to reflect those values in their own work. Most organizations ask their people to be part of living the values before there is enough evidence for them to believe that it is truly important. We find it’s quite easy to engage people in conversations about desired behaviors for building a culture once they see business practices and leadership behavior that also connects to the values we are talking about.

The desired employee behaviors are again linked directly to the values of the organization. There can be different job competencies throughout a company, but the core behaviors linked to the values are common for everyone – leaders included. Behaviors need to be clearly linked to each value and truly actionable. We will show examples of these behaviors in a future article. For now, ask yourself what you believe are essential behaviors to see from all employees that would demonstrate the current values of your organization? Once that’s done, consider whether you consistently see those behaviors in your department? It’s important to remember that if you do not see these behaviours in action consistently, you may need to go back and work on step 2 and 3 before you see results.

Step 5 – Continuous Improvement Activities

Finally, the continuous improvement step considers how the organization plans, refreshes, and invigorates. We consider:

  • What level of involvement do people have on the business planning process? Do we consistently meet plans or fall short with them? What messages do missed deadlines send and how can this be improved?
  • In what way does the organization reward and recognize people? Does it promote people based on values?
  • What does your organization measure? What gets measured gets done. Does your organization measure the right behaviors for the culture, based on the values it espouses? Does it meet the goals around those objectives/measures?
  • Is there an engagement process for people to contribute ideas for improvement?
  • What are customers saying about the organization?
  • …many other aspects are considered in this step which we will explore more in a future article.

During Step Five we assess the overall results and then link them back to Step One to determine whether they meet what was intended in the desired culture. We go from step five back to step one and ask critical questions whether the results are what they expected in relation to their mission and values. From this input we then start again from step one to determine how to build a better plan and create more awareness and success around attaining what you say you stand for.

This is a high level overview of the steps for changing a culture around your mission and particularly your values. The next article will explore in more depth step two with a case study of the types of business practices that support the values of an organization.

Five part series on Culture Change:

  1. Steps to Culture Change
  2. What Impacts an Organization’s Culture?
  3. Behaviors to Support Your Desired Culture
  4. Business Practices to Support your Desired Culture
  5. Continuous Improvement Strategies to Build Your Desired Culture