30Sep

This company is going nowhere; it is time to jump this ship; I am only here for the pay check; the more things change here, the more they remain the same; I don’t think management really cares about what I think – these are statements that are symptoms of a company that is dying a slow death due to a poisoned culture. This death may not be immediately visible in the top-line and bottom-line results but will definitely makes its impact felt sooner rather than later. In the Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends survey, employee engagement and culture issues exploded onto the scene, rising to become the no. 1 challenge companies face around the world. Organizations that create a culture defined by meaningful work, deep employee engagement, job and organizational fit, and strong leadership are outperforming their peers and will likely beat their competition in attracting top talent.  Exceptional organizations create and sustain a culture that engages and motivates their employees – 83% of executives and 84% of employees rank having engaged and motivated employees as the top factor that substantially contributes to a company’s success. There is a correlation between employees who say they are “happy at work” and feel “valued by [their] company” and those who say their organization has a clearly articulated and lived culture. To be an exceptional organization, companies must focus on the intangible elements of culture-building. So how does one achieve a culture turnaround?

 

There is still a divide between what executives and employees think influence workplace culture the most (reinforced by multiple survey findings)  – when considering what factors impact workplace culture, executives rank tangible elements such as financial performance and competitive compensation among the highest, whereas those factors were among the lowest for employees. In contrast, employees rank intangible elements such as regular and candid communications, employee recognition, and access to management/leadership highest. And here-in lies the areas where management will and intent can translate into tangible actions that can turnaround the corporate culture, no matter how far eroded, to a point that everyone can proudly say – This (the culture that you want) is in “OUR” DNA.

I have gone through quite a lot of organizational changes myself some of which impacted the culture positively and some that had disastrous consequences. Here are the top five actions that did/do work in triggering afresh energy, enthusiasm and effectiveness in the workplace to turnaround the corporate culture:

Action #1: Figure out what aspect of culture needs to change – And to do this, you have to start with an assessment of your company vision statement. Is your vision statement still relevant to inspire the cultural changes you want? Do people still believe that it is an attainable vision for the company? People need to have hope for the future – is your vision (and core values and desired behaviours) a common rallying point that are meaningful enough to give people hope and a passion for their work? Don’t make the mistake of acting on perceptions instead of reality. Management and employees need to have a common starting point for a successful outcome to this journey. Do an ANONYMOUS, simple employee engagement survey (you can refer to the kind of questions asked in the Deloitte survey link above) and respect the results.  This will help you influence the organization’s response to your vision statement and values and yield the areas where change is needed to transform into a winning culture.

Action #2: Identify the Influencers in the organization and bring them “in” – Who do people look up to in the organization, whose views do they listen to, who do they respect ? If you can convince these informal influencers on the need for a cultural change and the sincerity behind your intent to change the culture, your battle is half-way won. There will be a cascading effect as Seth Godin says: If you take a group of people, a subgroup of the larger population, and expose them to focused messages again and again, you will start to change their point of view. If you augment those messages with exposure to other members of the group, the messages will begin to have ever more impact. If the group becomes aligned, and it starts acting like a tribe, those messages will become self-reinforcing. And finally, if you anoint and reward leaders of this tribe, single them out for positive attention because of the way your message resonated with them, it will become fully baked in.

Action #3: Start Walking the Talk in Small Steps – Culture is a combination of many small things. It is the way the organization works internally and responds externally. So what better way to reinforce the culture than demonstrating the cultural change that is needed by how you work and respond in everyday interactions? One step at a time. Don’t try to change the entire company at once. Start with one process or workflow and begin the change there through your actions (and resulting success) and then say “This is how we respond together” to drive the change. This is where the business operations team can play a key role to drive the cultural changes in a rapid way by defining and getting the team aligned and in agreement regarding goals, processes and metrics in a way that works for the company and what it stands for.

Action #4: Be Courageous in Weeding out Behaviors that do not align with the Company Culture – Set a time period for the culture changes to take effect. And during this period and especially after this period, be quick, decisive and consistent in addressing the negative influences. As they say, one bad apple spoils the basket – not only do you need to ensure that you hire, promote and reward people not just for skills or performance but for attitude and behaviour that aligns with the culture that you want to foster but also help people who are not aligned to be aligned or move them quickly out of the organization. When valued behaviours are not demonstrated, no matter where he/she is in the hierarchy, there should be consequences that demonstrate that such behavior is no longer acceptable in the organization. This is important to establish accountability.

Action #5: Communicate and Celebrate the Winning Culture – People need to know they are part of something special and unique. And this is where sustained messaging comes in – there are so many inexpensive ways to do this apart from the standard blog, intranet and collaboration tools. Culture is also built in-person with live conversations and interactions.  Creating and retelling of the stories about the company (how it began, turning points, big wins) are important and so are establishing traditions that allow staff to let off some steam, relax and just have some fun (Maniac Mondays, Fun Fridays, Annual Days, Spot Awards – get creative !). Creating an atmosphere that not only fosters but actively promotes open, honest dialogue, transparent communication and great team-building opportunities goes a long way in achieving the culture turnaround that is needed.

You will know your efforts have yielded results when every employee in the organization can state the company’s mission and core values in their own words, when your customer net promoter’s values (NPV) rises, employees praise and encourage each other, internal escalation and long email cc lists are a rarity, and leaders are “connected” to the rest of the organization. Or just walk down the corridors and count the number of smiles that you can see 🙂

“I believe that in a leadership company most people will like their work. But the company will be an even more enjoyable place to work if the culture is designed to make it that way. Leading fosters a working atmosphere that stimulates an open exchange of ideas and fosters dissent. People should show a genuine concern for one another and treat one another with fairness, as peers and friends. With such an atmosphere it should be a pleasure to come to work.” – Marvin Bower, considered as the Father of modern management consulting.

Have you been part of a cultural transformation effort ? What worked and what didn’t to turnaround the corporate culture? I would love to hear and learn from you.

Pic Courtesy : http://www.flickr.com/photos/madfamily/2817211497/

0 Comments:

    • Patrick Joggerst
    • October 01, 2012
    • Reply

    Hey there. Are you still consulting?

    Sent from my iPhone

      • Suchitra Mishra
      • October 01, 2012
      • Reply

      Yes, Patrick – consulting, implementing, driving and being driven – in short, having fun 🙂
      Thanks for dropping by,
      Suchitra

    • jayksingh99
    • October 01, 2012
    • Reply

    A very nice & informative article Suchitra 🙂
    You have correctly pointed out that there is a disconnect between the employees and the top management and so they require different approaches to motivation techniques. What is good for one may not be for the other group.
    People should be allowed to or given independence to voice their opinions, either through frank surveys or simple feedback.
    Keep posting and enlightening us 🙂

    Regards

    Jay
    http://road-to-sanitarium.blogspot.in/

      • Suchitra Mishra
      • October 01, 2012
      • Reply

      Hello Jay – yes, perceptions differ and honest feedback helps get perceptions closer to reality – surveys are one way, frequent random staff interactions is another way….
      Thanks for reading and commenting.
      How is your journey going ?
      Regards,
      Suchitra

    • Organic Yanthiram
    • October 01, 2012
    • Reply

    Hello Suchitra, I particularly liked the statement of weeding out stuff. The difficulty of Changing a Corporate culture of a company is directly proportional to the size of the company. There is always a bad element in the hierarchical link through which the company culture propagates. If there is a bad ass in the link, the culture is going to be different than the intended one. So it is a great point from you to weed out elements or the bad asses that don’t align with the said company culture.
    i really apologize to you that i want to be identified by this name of organic yanthiram as i think name is just a Maya. Man, Dog and Bacteria are all the same with different organic chemical combination.

    • Suchitra Mishra
    • October 01, 2012
    • Reply

    Hello OY :),

    I agree with your observation – The difficulty of Changing a Corporate culture of a company is directly proportional to the size of the company. That is what I have found too and hence my third action – identify distinct units and start small instead of tackling the whole elephant. BTW if you are interested in turnarounds, read “Who said elephants can’t dance” by Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., the former chairman and CEO of IBM who led the firm from the brink of bankruptcy and mainframe obscurity back into the forefront of the technology business. A review here for your reference : (http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/rational/library/2071.html)

    Thanks for reading and commenting.
    Regards,
    Suchitra

    • Peter Chisambara
    • October 01, 2012
    • Reply

    Great post Suchistra. Corporate culture change initiatives should not be imposed on employees and hurried. Employees who are going to be affected by the changes should be taken on board and their views considered seriously. How do they view the changes? Is management and staff on the same path? Ignoring these employees will result in reaping negative results. In his book, The 3rd Alternative, Stephen Covey talks about achieving a synergy that’s in the best interest of the company. It’s not about staff’s way or leadership’s way, but “our way”. It’s good to have a time frame for implementing the change program but time alone is not suffice and measure for success. There should be culture change KPIs aligned to the corporate strategy. These KPIs should not be too many to distract monitoring and evaluation of progress. Sometimes, deadlines make people have a blinkered view of the way forward. They are only concerned about beating them at the expense of long term results. At the same time, time frames for achieving positive change results should be realistic given the available resources and not be too ambitious

      • Suchitra Mishra
      • October 03, 2012
      • Reply

      Hello Peter,
      Thanks for dropping by. You have made some great points here. I absolutely agree with setting the right KPIs to measure cultural change. Apart from employee engagement scores and 360 degree feedback, what other KPIs do you think would effectively measure cultural change ? I would love to hear from you.

      Also recommend readers to take a peek at Peter’s site http://financeleadership.net/ – interesting posts there on change management.

      Regards,
      Suchitra

    • Neeraj
    • October 02, 2012
    • Reply

    Hi Suchitra – an insightful article and your opening especially resonates with past experiences of most people.

    The leadership is also caught in a dilemma in such a situation wherein it is not able to gauge the extent of real engagement (not in touch with the real reality), thereby leading to prescriptive change that further widens the chasm. A proactive, selfless and engaged leadership is the key to any such turnaround…

    Hence- while we all talk of employee engagement, we rarely talk about management engagement !!!!!!!

      • Suchitra Mishra
      • October 18, 2012
      • Reply

      Thank you, Neeraj. You have made a great point about management engagement – certainly culture trickles down from the top. The leadership team has to be fully energized and engaged with the company vision and goals and not just on a selfish agenda. People are smart – they can sense the “pulse” of the management pretty quickly…
      I have always been motivated by your ability to hold the team together and shepherd they through all changes all the while ensuring high engagement and productivity.
      Thank you for your inspiration – and for dropping by 🙂

      Regards,
      Suchitra

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    • October 08, 2012
    • Reply

    […] It is as important to encourage “mistakes” as it is to reward successes. Companies need to create an environment where people are not afraid to give and be their best and to challenge the status quo else you can […]

    • Kavita Verma
    • October 14, 2012
    • Reply

    Hi Suchitra, this is another awesome blog from you. I must say your plain yet well articulated writing style, always focused on 5 key aspects of the topic is a great pull factor for readers. Knowledge enriching and very well linked to the practical phases any organization goes through. Keep writing your thoughts and enlightening us. 🙂

    Regards
    Kavita

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    […] and encourage and participate in fun at the workplace. And the more of us who do this, the more this culture spreads getting engagement levels up slowly and […]

    • Xoli Mavikela
    • October 13, 2013
    • Reply

    Great piece of work. Assisted me with my OD assignment for my MBA!

      • Suchitra Mishra
      • October 13, 2013
      • Reply

      Glad it was useful. Thanks.

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