Programmes to transform your corporate culture can often receive a lukewarm, sceptical welcome from employees. But there are strategies that will encourage them to seize your future vision with enthusiasm, writes Elizabeth Doty for Strategy+Business.
Simply declaring your mission statement is a long way off connecting people to a shared vision of positive cultural change. Taking plenty of time to explain the whys and wherefores of what you want to achieve won’t be enough either, says Doty. The shift needs to be deeper, integrating those values throughout the organisation at a fundamental level.
BREAK THROUGH CYNICISM
She cites the example of a healthcare-services provider that wanted to make a huge shift in priorities – from corporate targets to patient care and good relationships – but was faced with cynical resistance from staff.
“We noticed the company values statement on the wall, which declared: ‘We exist to make life better for our patients’. However inspiring those words might have been, they felt totally disconnected from the reality we were seeing,” explains leadership consultant Doty.
A breakthrough came when her colleague asked staff if they would like to make that statement real. This prompted an energetic debate about their opposition to the previous culture and opened up a much more constructive and optimistic discussion on how they, as employees, could help to action the new focus on care.
HOW TO CHANGE YOUR CULTURE
Doty has four tips for leaders who find themselves in a comparable situation:
1) Look for positive values that are worth keeping. It’s impossible for an established business to start with a clean slate when creating a company culture. Certain beneficial values will be embedded in everyday behaviour. Consider their worth and how they can be built on or refreshed.
2) Don’t rely on a written values statement. Your employees need to see how those values will translate into actions. What will the priorities be under the new regime? What will be acceptable and unacceptable behaviours? Will there be room for compromise? Be specific and encourage questions and discussion.
3) Treat your values as a guide, not a destination. Accept that you won’t always live up to those values, even if you truly believe in them. Look to your employees to flag up when that happens. Doty says: “Start by talking with your employees, who see incongruences all too clearly. In surveys or listening sessions, ask about situations in which your firm fully lives its values, and those in which it doesn’t measure up.”
4) Try to keep focused on your new culture. Initiatives can become blurred and faded over time unless leaders remain committed. Sustain employees’ interest by regularly underlining your message. Doty cites one leader who looks closely at one value per month with his teams, then together they choose an action to follow it through.
Changing your corporate culture isn’t going to happen overnight. The key to making a successful, positive shift is to live your values as a business every day. Take positive action to integrate your culture at all levels and reap the benefits of improved credibility with customers, employees and stakeholders.