Changing a company or organizational culture is a long-lead and challenging undertaking. Some of my experiences were great, others, abject failures. Here’s a set of lessons I picked up helping to turn around companies, and work with organizations:
- That Vision thing: Know how you want people to focus, think and act when you’re not around, or if they never met you. How people behave when you aren’t there to give out answers is the litmus test of culture change—or non-change.
- Get your team together before the game starts. Who’s with you in this culture change? Without wingmen and influencers, some who work for you directly, some who are informal but respected leaders, culture change is toast.
- You have to be present to win. To give a talk, rattling off values and aspirations will end up doing just that. Rattling. But not changing the people, who ultimately ARE the culture. Get your traveling shoes on and get out there with your people. Be passionate about the Why in the culture shift, and tell the story a lot.
- Rinse / Repeat / Rinse / Repeat. This will take time and cycles to get people’s muscle-memory lined up with the new “us”. You, and every member of your team has to live it, talk it and repeat it to bake in the new stuff. Think months if you’re a romantic optimist, years if you really intend to talk and walk this culture so it thrives. As “they” say: It’s a journey, not a destination.
- Do you care about me, or just your bonus? People have to know you’re sincerely interested in helping with the things that matter to them. If your Why is to make your people and business better, smarter, faster – you have a shot. If they smell your comp package as the motive, you lose. Get to know people. All of them, best you can. Give them a reason to care and be amped about this culture shift.
- It’s the people, stupid. There used to be a big difference between leading volunteers and developing employees. Recent labor crunches, Covid and the phenoms of Gen X and Gen Z are blurring that gap. People have more options, and less dedication to cold clinical companies. No leader has to grovel, but anyone seeking a new culture better understand that respect and civility—which unfortunately was treated as optional in years past—no longer is. Respect and understand people—even if you must disagree or override ideas.