The Shocking Discovery of a True Culture Change
In 1988, I was hired to facilitate a leadership development series for a group of middle managers. However, instead of providing a set of isolated skills such as planning, time management, conflict resolution, and performance management, I approached the development similar to my projects involving changing the culture of a team. We started with the output of the team, determined the mindset and beliefs of the middle managers to accomplish their outputs and goals, and defined specific behaviors (habits) that would optimize their effectiveness together in achieving those outputs and goals.
Within six months, this group of middle managers was completely transformed. They were more effective in making decisions, which involved more collaboration and less time to make those decisions. They communicated with one voice to the rest of the organization eliminating the mixed messages and inconsistent practices that existed before. Organizational standards and practices were consistently implemented across the organization and resources were being shared between functional areas rather than exhibiting silo competition for resources, which described their history. Not only did results improve dramatically, but employee morale was impacted and the overall feel of being in the organization changed. Not only was this group of middle managers impacted, but their direct reports and employees commented on the culture change of inclusion, consistency, and responsiveness which was heightened significantly.
The organization’s culture changed. But equally important the standard rules of culture change based on the literature of that time were broken and led to years of successfully managing change for many organizations.
The Broken Rules of True Culture Change
- Top management wasn’t included in the culture change – it was led by middle management.
- The culture change was demonstrated in 6 months instead of the 1 to 2 years that seemed like the minimal time reported for organizational culture change.
- The culture wasn’t changed based on defining a set of core values as much as it was defined by a clear mindset change and change of habits.
- The culture change was simple to measure and linked to the organization’s business outcomes in addition to its employee satisfaction.
While I thought this was an anomaly and tested this approach with three more organizations in different industries, I soon discovered that the pattern of change was replicable and equally effective. Since then, we have helped many organizations with culture change and several have reached a “benchmark” status in their industry as a result of that culture change.
How is Your Organization’s Culture Defined?
- Do you have a clear set of values that is documented for your organization?
- Are those values clearly defined in terms of behaviors specific for each functional area to ensure alignment and practicality?
- Are managers and individual contributors assessed based on those behaviors?
- Is the culture linked to your business and the business outcomes you are achieving?
- How is your culture measured and measurably linked to your business outcomes?
- Does leadership have its own culture that is in support of the organization’s culture?
- If you were to change your culture, what aspects of your current culture would you want to change and what would be the expected result?
- What is the value of making those changes on business results?