How To Change Workplace Culture

When we experience things like cynicism, overly aggressive behavior, distrust – when we experience weak culture on a daily basis – this is a sign that we need to do something about culture. Others will only desire to tweak their culture. It’s not so much dysfunctional or bad, as just missing a little something.

According to Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report, of more than 7,000 CEOs and Human Resource leaders surveyed, only 19% of CEO and Human Resource leaders feel they have the “right culture.” Getting the “right culture” requires a change in culture – which necessitates altering the way an organization behaves. Changing a culture is challenging, largely because the existing culture has usually formed over many years. There are deep rooted ways of behaving that are not easily uprooted.

Making even incremental changes can feel as challenging as swimming upstream. One of the main difficulties with changing culture is that it is often invisible to those inside of it. This is like a fish in water – it’s simply the environment where we live. Some inside the organization haven’t even considered whether the culture is weak or strong; it just is.

Following is a summary of the culture change process. Based on our experience we’ve found these steps essential to implement culture change.

  1. Understand Your Current Culture.

Talk to and listen to people.Pay attention to the stories people tell and how they interact. When we have a clear picture of where we are currently, we can more easily plan for change.

  1. Assess Your Current Culture.

Consider what’s good about it and what’s bad. What should stay and what should go? What is missing that should be added?

  1. Envision and Define a Desired Culture.

Before making changes, we need to know where we are going. What does your ideal culture look like? Be sure to invite everyone to be a part of this process – employees and leaders alike.

  1. Teach and Model the Culture.

Once a new culture is envisioned, share the idea of this new culture widely. Because both employees and leaders were part of redefining the culture, both now need to buy into and model the culture. Change will not be successful if everyone is not aligned.

  1. Hold People Accountable.

Holding people accountable to new ways of interacting and working together should not just be about leadership coaching employees. Employees need to also hold each other accountable. Workplace culture is fragile, so monitoring, checking in, and coaching when appropriate needs to happen regularly.

Many leaders I meet have great intentions about changing their culture. They attend a workshop, read a book, go to a retreat, and become inspired about what might become of their organization. They then wake up and go to work and find that the daily rhythms and sometimes grind of their tasks get in the way of working on culture.

It is important to remember that changing culture is a process, not an event – and a long process at that. Thus, committing to changing culture is not to be taken casually. It must be seen as essential work that will take time and commitment. But with a clear plan and focus, change is possible.

Randy Grieser, CEO, Author, Speaker
ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance and the Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

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© Randy Grieser and The Ordinary Leader
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