by Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.
Changing an organization’s culture is a long-term project that involves everyone in an organization, and there are a number of challenges that can hamper a company’s change efforts. Here, we look at some of the most common.
Why Corporate Culture Needs to Evolve
The world doesn’t stand still, and neither does the market. So why should your company culture stay the same?
Industry experts and HR professionals know that strong company culture can make employees happier and positively impact productivity. But even if an organization has successfully fostered a healthy culture, there’s no room for complacency.
Culture is dynamic and must adapt to the business and the wider environment. It could be that a business has experienced a period of growth or merged with another company or that the industry as a whole is undergoing a digital transformation. To thrive in a changing world and appeal to new hires, company culture has to evolve too.
Top 5 Challenges of Organizational Culture Change
Corporate culture is a shared perception of values and behaviors, encompassing what you believe and how you do things as a business. It’s all about cultural norms and habits that become ingrained over time, which means that transforming organizational culture is no small task, no matter the size of the company.
Here, we break down five of the most common challenges and how to overcome them:
1. Resistance to Change
Embracing change is never easy, whether it’s adapting to circumstances outside of work or within an organization. It’s particularly hard when a complex web of shared behaviors has built up over many years, and these norms are seen as a foundational part of a company’s success. People can feel defensive of the status quo if change is not introduced with transparency and sensitivity.
The important thing is to make sure that everyone understands why changes are being implemented. Introducing sweeping changes with little context or explanation is a recipe for anxiety and confusion. But making a case for change and clearly explaining the new goals, vision, and plan will all help bring about successful culture change.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel unnecessarily. If elements of the current culture work well, then employees will be pleased to incorporate these legacy strengths into the new framework.
2. Poor Employee Engagement
All the email announcements and motivational speeches in the world won’t bring about long-term cultural change if employees opt out and refuse to be a part of it. Quite simply, culture is the sum of everyone’s values, beliefs, and behavior, and every small action and interaction goes towards building it. So engaging employees is a crucial step in bringing about cultural change.
Making culture changes an inclusive employee experience will help drive engagement and bring people on board. It’s worth thinking about forming a culture committee and asking representatives from different teams to help senior management and HR leaders formulate the company values. It could be that a group with representatives from each team champion change from the ground up.
Employee surveys can also be a helpful tool when it comes to defining new goals and culture, as well as measuring employee engagement once it’s introduced. The important thing is to make the wider team feels involved at every step.
3. “Do as I Say, Not as I Do”
It’s one thing for senior leaders to announce a set of organizational changes; it’s quite another to have them model the workplace culture day in and day out. While senior executives might publicly support a change in culture, it’s important that everyone from the managing director downward is seen to be living it themselves.
For example, if creating a healthy work-life balance is a long-term goal, then late-night emails from the leadership team send an unhelpful message. Similarly, if leaders routinely turn up late to meetings or allow them to overrun, it makes it difficult to embed meeting discipline across the wider company.
Executive buy-in means leading by example; perhaps scheduling emails for the next morning or adding a line to make it clear that they don’t expect a reply until the next business day.
4. Strategy Misalignment
One of the biggest challenges to address is the change management process. Culture change is more than a series of announcements or a list of values; a new culture needs to be brought to life through updated business priorities and everyday processes, such as the way you measure and reward employees, and high performers in particular.
Middle managers won’t feel properly supported – and will therefore struggle with organizational change – if their teams’ targets don’t match up with the new behaviors and values that have been defined. If one of the new core values is collaboration, for example, this needs to be built into a process that recognizes employees who break down silos and work well across different functions as opposed to simply hitting individual performance targets to boost their own careers. A robust process will help join the dots, moving away from goals that the company has historically focused on and embedding culture change.
5. Short-Term Thinking
Cultural change isn’t something that happens overnight, and a desire for quick results is one of the biggest challenges to be overcome. It takes time to embed new values and desired behaviors, so it’s important to manage expectations and make it clear from the outset that this is a large-scale undertaking.
Planning for the long term has its benefits. Changing a culture is a collaborative effort, after all, and taking a longer view means that everyone has the opportunity to test, learn, and share feedback. One team might be given unlimited access to barista coffee to see if it sparks those chance conversations that lead to fruitful collaboration; another might want to test a new protocol for weekly meetings. Recognizing that changing the culture is a continuing project, not a one-time fix, engages employees and ensures continual refinement and evolution.
Tips for Driving Workplace Culture Change
Define Culture and Core Values
Significant change starts with a clear vision, so the first step is to define your desired future state. Is it a more customer-centric culture, perhaps, or a more inclusive workplace? Like many companies, you may consider offering a more informal hybrid work environment that can help foster a stronger work-life balance.
Diagnose Current Shortfalls
Once you’ve defined the core values and desired culture, the next stage is to measure them against the current culture. How do employees feel about the company today? What do you need to do to bring it closer to the ideal culture you’ve mapped out?
Make A Plan and Measure Progress
Create a strategy and set goals to address the gaps you identified, making sure that they align with the business strategy. Set milestones and metrics so that you can track your progress accurately and ensure that culture change is having a positive impact on performance.
Sustain The New Culture
Company culture is constantly evolving, so the journey doesn’t end when you have developed and introduced your desired culture. It takes work and commitment to keep it alive and adapt it as the need arises.
Evolving Your Company Culture
Changing organizational culture is not without its challenges, but if you plan effectively and meet them head-on, you can ultimately create a stronger, more innovative culture for your business.
At Ideal Outcomes, we help companies drive business outcomes through culture evolution. We’ll help you change your company culture to create an environment that’s inclusive and empowering for everyone.
If you’d like to find out how to make meaningful changes to your corporate culture, contact us today.