The start of a new year seems like a great time to ask “What sort of culture change would you like in your business?” Most business owners or leaders either shy away from asking the questions because they don’t know where to start or they ignore doing anything about it because they have been burnt too many times by failure.
We have been part of very successful culture change programs, in particular over the last three years, and wanted to share with you the insights we have learnt.
Why focus on a culture change process?
Change is an inevitable consequence of operating a business in the 21st century. For business owners and leaders, it is important to recognise that change can be led from the front (proactive) or it can be a result of external pressures such as new competition (reactive). Regardless of which change you are experiencing; it is likely to be more successful if there is a planned approach to embed the change in your business.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Just because you communicate the change in an email to everyone doesn’t automatically mean everyone has understood, accepted and knows what accountability they have in the change.
It’s important we agree on culture, right?
Some consultants and academics talk about culture being the shared values and behaviours of employees. This definition I believe over-simplifies the diversity of your employees’ personalities and backgrounds and perhaps overlooks how strategy, leadership, accountabilities, practices and measures also play a role in directly and indirectly shaping the culture you have today.
We have taken a view that culture should be defined by the way businesses would like things to be – whatever that may be. Every business has a pocket of success or an employee who they would clone if they could. It is up to the individual business to find those pockets or individuals and define what it is that they do in helping the business succeed.
Rather than using a textbook model survey to conduct a gap analysis between the business today and a one-size fits all approach, we suggest making your culture something that you believe is related to your business strategy – to give the change a sense of purpose. For example, with one client, we focused on building an accountable sales culture within their team.
Our Simple Six Step Process
Developed through years of practical, hands-on experience in all sorts of cultural change programs, the purpose of our planned approach is to create an effective, efficient and engaging process that enables business owners and leaders to initiate and implement any changes within the business.
What does success look like in your business?
This should be shaped by your business strategy and can be as broad or as specific as you want. We have seen change as simple as embedding a new sales process to improving customer service interactions.
Who is committed and what does commitment look like for your business?
All change needs senior leadership buy-in. No one should be immune from the change and if they are, it should make you question the need for change in the first place. Find culture champions who display your ideal employee characteristics and define their role in how to support the culture change.
What are the roles and responsibilities that individuals, managers and others need to ensure change remains a priority?
Does everyone understand clearly the new expectations? This is where leaders need to step up and ensure that not only are these roles and responsibilities defined but are also applied consistently.
What business practices or policies fully support your culture change?
It is useful to take a step back to look at your business practices such as branding, communications, remuneration, rewards, employee experience, performance management, recognition, training and development to make sure they align with (and not contradict) what you are trying to achieve.
How will you know if you are succeeding?
This can be done formally through surveys or focus groups or informally through upward feedback from employees or customers or simply tracking the right business metrics.
How do you ensure action is taken?
A simple Improvement Action Plan will help ensure the team focuses on the right actions and momentum isn’t lost within the day-to-day running of your business.
Taking The First Step
Our advice is to be strategic about your culture change. Pick one area that you believe will make the biggest difference across the whole business, within a team or an area in which you want your leadership to improve. Where do you want the team to run the ball?
Think about a potential opportunity or bottleneck within your business. There are three main areas we ask leaders to consider:
- when your business interacts with a customer;
- a work system or process; and
- your products
Ask yourself or your team:
- How can we do this better?
- How can we do this cheaper?
- How can we do this easier?
- How can we do this faster?
- How else can we do this?
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