10 strategies of Organization Culture
How many times have you heard someone a new CEO, a journalist, a management consultant, a management guru, a colleague talk about the urgent need for cultural change? You want to make it a world-class product. To do without all the nonsense and negativity that annoys employees and prevents good intentions from turning into progress. To achieve a completely different approach that starts immediately.
These cultural criticisms are just as widespread as complaints about the weather and about as effective. How many times have you seen how determined efforts to “change” culture are succeeding in changing people’s behavior and way of working? And how many times have you seen significant improvements in the long term?
If the answer to the last two questions is “rare,” we wouldn’t be surprised. We do not believe that rapid and comprehensive cultural change is possible or even desirable. Because a company’s culture is its fundamental personality, the essence of its people’s interaction and way of working. However, it is an elusive and complex company that survives and evolves through gradual changes in leadership, strategy and other circumstances. We find that the most useful definition is also the simplest: culture is the self-sufficient behavioral model that determines how things are done.
Culture consists of instinctive and repetitive habits and emotional responses and cannot be copied or easily identified. Corporate cultures are constantly renewed and slowly evolving: what people feel, think and believe is reflected and shaped by the way they do business. Formal efforts to change a culture (to replace it with something completely new and different) rarely focus on what motivates people, what makes them vibrate. High-quality memos are erased within a few hours. They can clad the walls with large banners announcing new values, but people will spend their days directly under these signs and continue with the habits they are familiar with and comfortable with.
But this inherent complexity should not prevent leaders from using culture as a lever. If you can’t just replace the entire machine, work on realigning some of the most useful gears. The goal of the game is to use what you can’t change by using some of the emotional strengths of your current culture in a different way.
Three dimensions of a corporate culture influence its orientation: symbolic memory (fully visible artifacts), key behaviors (recurring actions that trigger other behaviors and are both visible and invisible) and mentalities (attitudes and beliefs that are widespread but exclusively invisible). Among these, behaviors are the most powerful determinant of real change. What people do matters more than what they say or believe. And to get more positive influences from your cultural situation, you should start by changing the most critical behaviors ways of thinking will follow. Over time, changes in behavior and habits can lead to better results.
You may be wondering: if it’s so difficult to change a culture, why should we try? Because a company’s current culture contains several reservoirs of emotional energy and influence. Executives working with them can significantly accelerate strategic and operational requirements. When positive cultural forces and strategic priorities are in harmony, companies can draw their energy from people’s feelings. This speeds up the movement of a company to gain a competitive advantage or regain lost benefits.
Research shows that companies that use specific cultural catalysts i.e. those that use informal emotional approaches to influence behavior experience many more changes that are permanent. Of the companies that reported the conscious use of elements of their culture in the Strategy’s 2013 Global Survey on Culture and Change Management, 70% reported that their company had achieved sustainable improvement in organizational pride and emotional engagement. This represents 35% for companies that have not used culture as a lever. Although there is no magic formula, no brilliant algorithm, no numerical equation that guarantees results, we have acquired valuable knowledge through decades of research and observation in dozens of companies, including some of the most successful in the world. By adopting the following principles, your company can learn to use and improve its culture to increase its chances of financial and operational success.
Deeply rooted cultures cannot be replaced by simple upgrades or even large revisions. Your culture cannot be replaced with a new culture as if it were an operating system or a CPU. In a way, your current cultural situation is only what it is and it contains elements that offer both natural benefits to businesses and elements that can act as barriers. We’ve never seen a culture that’s bad or good. So to work effectively with your culture, you need to understand it, recognize what traits are outstanding and consistent, and recognize under what conditions those traits are likely to be a help or an obstacle. In other words, there is both yin and yang with cultural characteristics.
2. Changes in behavior and mentality will follow
It is generally accepted that behavioral changes follow mental changes as surely as night follows day. For this reason, companies often try to change attitudes (and ultimately behaviors) by communicating values and inserting them into brilliant brochures. This technique did not work well at Enron, where fraud and accounting scandals were part of daily practice, although the company’s values excellence, respect, integrity, and communication were embedded in the marble floor of the atrium of the World Centre in Houston. In reality, culture is much more a question of action than of speech. Attempting to change a culture only through top-down messages, training and development programs and identifiable cues rarely changes people’s beliefs or behaviors. In fact, neuroscientific research suggests that people believe rather than think. Important behavioral changes tangible, achievable, repeatable, observable and measurable are therefore a good starting point. Some good examples of behavioral change that we have observed in a number of companies are empowerment (reducing the number of approvals required for decisions), collaboration (defining simple ways to convene joint projects) and interpersonal relationships (developing mutually respectful practices to address contentious issues or complaints).
3. Concentrate on a few critical behaviors
Folk wisdom advocates a holistic approach everyone should change everything that is not perfect! But companies must be strictly selective in their choice of behavior. The key is to focus on what we call “the few critical people”, a small number of important behaviors that would have a big impact if implemented by a large number of people. Identify some of the things people do across the organization that have a positive impact on business performance, for example, ways to start meetings or talk to customers. Make sure they are consistent with the company’s overall strategy. Also, make sure people feel comfortable doing these things so you can get into the emotional bond. Then encode them: Translate these critical behaviors into simple, practical actions that people can take every day. Then select groups of employees who are ready for those few behaviors that respond strongly to the new behaviors and are likely to implement and disseminate them.
4. Use your authentic informal leaders
The authority conferred by an official position should not be confused with leadership. Leadership is a natural attribute that is exercised and presented informally regardless of title or position in the organizational chart. Since genuine informal leaders found in all organizations are often not recognized as such, they are often neglected and underused when it comes to leadership culture. These leaders can be identified through interviews, surveys and tools such as organizational network analysis, which enable organizations to map complex internal social relationships by analyzing email statistics and meeting records. Once identified, these leaders can become powerful allies who can influence behavior by “showing through action. When companies map their organization, they can identify leaders who have different core strengths of leadership
5. Do not exclude your official leaders from the game
Most companies tend to move culture into the silo of HR professionals. But leaders from all parts of the organization are essential to protect and defend desired behaviors, stimulate personal feelings and strengthen cultural alignment. The signal of emotional attachment sets the tone for others. When employees see a separation between the culture that an organization proclaims and the culture that follows its formal leadership, they quickly detach themselves from the culture promoted and simply imitate the behavior of their elders. People at the top have to show the changes they want to see. Here too, the few criticisms come into play. A handful of competent leaders must be on board to start the process.
6. Link the behavior to the company’s objectives
When people talk about feelings, motivations, and values essential elements of a strong culture conversation can often turn into abstraction. It can then be very far from what it needs to succeed in the market. Too many employees leave culture-based public meetings or value discussions and wonder how advice on how to be a better person can translate into the work they do. To bridge this gap, provide concrete and clearly defined examples of how cultural interventions can improve performance and financial results. Choose behaviors that are specifically designed to improve business performance and can be measured over time.
7. Show the impact quickly
We live in a time when the duration of attention is notoriously short. This applies both to organizational culture and to people’s media usage behavior. When people hear about new initiatives and efforts that are heavily publicized and do not see related activities for several months, they withdraw and become cynical. It is therefore extremely important to highlight the impact of cultural efforts on business results as quickly as possible. An effective way to do this is to set up performance pilot projects, i.e. high-profile demonstration projects. Pilot projects are relatively low-risk measures that introduce specific behaviors that can then be evaluated and evaluated. They are often based on a dashboard that defines the desired impacts, tactics and specific measures.
7. Demonstrate the impact quickly
We are living in an age of notoriously short attention spans. This applies to the organizational culture as well as to people’s media usage habits. When people hear about new high-profile initiatives and efforts and then see no activities related to them for several months, they will become detached and cynical. Therefore, it is extremely important to show the impact of cultural efforts on business results as quickly as possible. An effective way to do this is to use performance pilots, i.e. high-caliber demonstration projects. Pilots are relatively low-risk efforts that introduce specific behaviors that can then be evaluated and evaluated. They often rely on a dashboard that defines the desired impacts, the tactics used and the specific metrics to be used.
8. Use business-to-business methods to become viral
Ideas can spread virally across departments and functions of the organization, as well as from top to bottom and bottom to top. Social media is an effective way to spread ideas: Blogs, Facebook or LinkedIn messages and tweets.
Meanwhile, social media has proven to be more effective than traditional forms of distribution in disseminating information, news, and music. The same applies to critical behavior. People are often more receptive to changes in the “way we do things here” when these changes are recommended or shared by friends, colleagues and other employees. This kind of credible social evidence is more convincing than similar testimonies from someone whose job is to sell something.
Just as there is an art to make viral content, there is also an art to make behavior viral. In a model that we have successfully tested in several situations.
9. Focus programmatic efforts on behavior
We highlighted the role that informal leaders can play in helping ideas become viral. But it is also important to align the new cultural orientation with existing business practices. Informal mechanisms and cultural interventions must complement and integrate common formal organizational components and not work across objectives. By providing the structure in which people work through disciplines such as organizational design, analysis, human resources, and process improvement, the formal organization provides the rational motivation for employee action, while the informal organization provides the emotional commitment that characterizes excellence.
10. actively manage your cultural situation over time
Companies that have worked very successfully with the culture we call them “cultural superstars” actively monitor, manage, nurture and update their cultural strengths. Why? As mentioned earlier, if culture is focused on strategic and operational priorities, it can provide hidden sources of energy and motivation that can accelerate change faster than formal processes and programs. Even if you have a very effective culture today, it may not be good enough for tomorrow.
Although the cultural situation of a company is difficult, multidimensional and often difficult to manage, it represents a set of strong emotional resources. As with other resources human resources, technology, finance it is the responsibility of managers to seek the greatest possible value.
To some extent, culture can be compared to natural forces such as wind and tides. These elements can be seen in the background, sometimes unnoticed, sometimes obvious. With immense strength, they can make plans and hinder progress. You can’t really tame them or change them fundamentally. But if you respect them and understand how to make the most of them, if you work with them and use their hidden power, they can become a source of energy and powerful help.
The best way to start is to ask yourself a series of questions. What are the most important emotional forces that determine what your employees do? What behavioral changes would be most important to meet strategic and operational requirements? Who are the real informal leaders you can win? And what can you and your fellow leaders do differently to report and reinforce these critical behaviors?
Of course, spectacular results are not to be expected overnight. Expect a development, not a revolution. One of the challenges of working with culture is that, as we have seen, it evolves gradually often too slowly for managers faced with rapidly changing competitors. That’s the bad news. The good news? If you treat culture with respect and intelligence as an environment in which you and your company live, you can use it to accelerate your competitive dynamics. There is no better time to start than now.