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The best companies in the world have the best cultures. Their employees are engaged and high-performing because they love where they work. But these organizations didn’t get there overnight. They prioritized changing their organizational culture, even when it was already leading to success, to meet new challenges and keep their employees happy and motivated.
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Cultural change is never easy, but you can start making tangible steps in the right direction today. Read on to discover how your organization can start changing its culture for the better.
What changing organizational culture means
What is organizational culture? It might be easier to say what it’s not. It encompasses your company’s values, goals, and daily practices. It’s what makes your organization unique. A great culture motivates your whole team to excel — and it keeps them smiling along the way.
When does your culture need to change? The short answer is that there’s always room for improvement. The best companies never rest on their laurels. They’re constantly looking for ways to better align their culture with their workforce and adapt to meet new challenges.
Of course, there are some cultural warning signs that indicate the need for immediate change that you should look out for. Some are obvious, like high turnover rates and negative feedback from current and former employees. Signals like a lack of participation in meetings (noticed any long, awkward silences recently?) or changes in body language and verbal communication styles are more subtle but no less troubling.
Organizational culture affects everything from your bottom line to engagement, so ignoring these signs — or failing to reexamine your culture regularly — is a dangerous gamble. A new culture won’t appear overnight, but done right, building one is more than possible. Follow these best practices and you’ll soon be changing your organizational culture for the better.
1. Define your cultural vision
Without a clear vision, your attempts at cultural change will be haphazard and ineffective. Defining the culture you want to see is a two-part process. First, determine what values and behaviors would make your culture exceptional. Then take a look at the factors that currently define your organizational culture with the goal of identifying those that you should prioritize changing to realize your vision.
An organization’s culture is more than its core values, but those values form the foundation for the actions that shape culture on a day-to-day basis. Your values should be unique to your organization, connected to your mission, and easy to understand and communicate. Think about what your culture should represent. Appreciation, resilience, teamwork, integrity, trust — these are more than just words. They’re concepts everyone can connect to, which makes them the building blocks of a successful organization.
While examining your company values, think about what behaviors would reflect them and make a difference at your organization. For instance, your organization might demonstrate trust by empowering employees through assigning new responsibilities, supporting professional development, and giving them a real voice in your organization. Or it might build a culture of appreciation by encouraging everyone to provide genuine, frequent social and monetary recognition. Your culture also comes out in regular business interactions, like a customer service representative responding to a customer complaint or a manager providing feedback to an employee.
After you’ve envisioned where you want to go, it’s time to take an honest look at your current culture and identify how it’s falling short. It might be a failure to act on employee feedback and concerns. Or it might be a workforce that doesn’t have the tools or direction they need to effectively collaborate. Whichever aspects of your culture don’t meet your ideal, those are the ones you need to focus on improving.
2. Make discrete changes
Cultural change will always be a gradual process, so making drastic changes with no lead time is a recipe for disaster. While it may be tempting to “fix the problem” immediately by taking a broad, heavy-handed approach, lasting cultural change doesn’t work that way. Not only will this confuse and alienate your workforce, it will likely create new cultural weakpoints in the process — or even exacerbate existing issues rather than solving them. For example, firing your entire management team to address poor practices is likely to be counterproductive.
Unless your organization suffers from truly extreme cultural issues that require equally extreme solutions, your organization is best served by making discrete changes whose impact it can measure. It could be implementing a new PTO policy to combat burnout, providing training to managers to improve communication with direct reports, or adopting a recognition platform that makes it easy for all team members to show appreciation. These focused initiatives won’t unnecessarily disrupt your workplace, and you can easily track their effects and make adjustments as needed.
3. Adapt based on metrics and employee feedback
So, how can you tell if your culture is moving in the right direction? Start with a voice of the employee solution that makes it easy to collect employee feedback and track key performance indicators (KPIs) like employee engagement scores and supervisor ratings. It should include pulse surveys — short, anonymous questionnaires centered on only a few aspects of the employee experience — that can be tailored to solicit information on whatever changes you’re making. Combined with an always-on feedback channel that employees can use to let you know what’s on their mind at any time, you can find out what employees think of your current culture and your efforts to change it.
Listening to feedback isn’t enough, though. You need to show employees you hear their concerns and recognize their validity by taking concrete action in response to feedback. This needs to take place at the manager level — while HR should provide tools and direction, it’s up to managers to make changes among their teams. The best platforms help managers move from insight to action by presenting them with relevant highlights and guiding them along the way to a meeting with their team, with the goal of coming up with a collaborative action plan that everyone believes in.
You should also make use of additional HR tools to track additional metrics specific to the cultural initiatives you’re pursuing. This might include a recognition platform that reveals how many employees are participating in your recognition program, the level of recognition activity at your organization, and other handy data. With a holistic perspective on your culture, you can determine what changes should be made and how they’re progressing.
4. Change from the top down and bottom up
Cultural change requires the investment of everyone at your organization, from staff to your CEO. Executives and other key stakeholders must recognize the need for cultural change at your organization and buy into your plan to accomplish that change. Leaders also have a special responsibility to act as culture champions, serving as examples of where you want your culture to go. All team members should support cultural change informally in their day-to-day activities and by participating in formal initiatives at your organization. And HR should handle the training and organization-wide communication needed to support cultural change.
Empower your workforce with the right tools
Cultural change doesn’t have to be hard. With solutions that give your employees a voice and get everyone involved in recognition, you can start engaging your employees and changing your culture all at the same time. Achievers Listen lets you quickly collect employee feedback and provides you with the key insights you need to act on it, while Achievers Recognize makes social recognition engaging and monetary recognition easy with a points-based reward system.
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