Culture & Strategy

The A-B-Cs Of Culture Change

11 Dec, 2017

Global macro-economic forces are disrupting business and the workforce in many different ways. In Silicon Valley, the unspoken rule of survival for technology start-ups is, “Innovate or die.” Fierce competition for talent in response to a rapid innovation cycle has created a hyper-sensitive talent market.

With more Millennials in the workforce, businesses need to make sure the workforce stays engaged while continuing to drive value for the company. Meanwhile, 8000 miles away in Saudi Arabia, the winds of change are also at work. Fluctuating oil prices are forcing a rich and powerful nation to decrease their reliance on oil, privatize a part of the biggest oil company and put in place people processes that increase productivity.

These two seemingly extreme climates are a couple of examples of how across the world, business leaders are focused on building high-performing cultures for sustainability and growth.

Why does culture matter?

Organizations all over the world are seeking a competitive edge. A culture that fosters innovation, attracts and retains the best talent, and drives collaboration through better alignment is hard to beat.

What can you do to drive culture change?

A – Present ARTEFACTS, yet convey AUTHENTICITY

Recently, there has been more significant focus on artefacts as a way to make sure that the culture is visible to all employees. Whether it’s open work spaces set up for collaboration, art that depicts a unique identity, or ping pong and free food that convey a fun and nurturing environment that fosters innovation — These artefacts shape and reflect the company culture.

However, culture is heavily influenced by values, beliefs and attitudes of the CEO and the senior leadership team. While workplace artefacts enforce cultural messages, in all of these examples, the companies that shine are the ones where core values are well articulated and leaders’ actions are consistent with those values even when no one is looking. In Saudi Arabia, culture change is often sought with subtle shifts in HR processes and leadership styles in the organization, over visible manifestations like core values printed in conference rooms. In Silicon Valley that approach could get lost, if the artefacts were not visible for new recruits comparing company cultures while evaluating job offers.

The important thing in both, is not to let any leader of the hook when it comes to enforcing the right culture in their teams. The artefacts then support the culture, instead of becoming targets for cynicism.

B – Describe BEHAVIORS that are tied to BUSINESS STRATEGY

For a long time, it was believed that culture of an organization is just it’s core values and therefore slower to change. However, culture is not just core values, it includes the explicit and implicit behaviors expected of employees and the talent eco-system that is built around it.

A few critical behaviors need to be derived from the business strategy and clarified for organizational alignment. The behavioral themes often center around Customer Relationships, Strategic Thinking, Operational Excellence and Great Teams. The nuances however are different and need to be carefully crafted and reflect what is unique about your organization.

Back to the example in Saudi Arabia, honor, respect and credibility of one’s word supersedes everything when it comes to customer relationships. But in Silicon Valley, technology start-ups focus on innovation and speed when it comes to customer needs. Clearly articulate how different the behavioral expectations are across career stages — from an individual contributor to a senior leader as it helps employees understand what it takes to progress and then quickly embed these behaviors within hiring, on-boarding, performance management, succession and leadership development for it take a stronger hold.

C – Identify CHAMPIONS and build CONNECTIONS

Champions are informal leaders within an organization who are role models for these behaviors and influencers of others. Often these individuals are great connectors and excellent networkers, and you should get them to be early adopters of new ideas and programs.

Instead of creating an army of people whose full-time job is culture roll-out, carefully select champions across levels in the organization who have the skills and attitude to incorporate the change into the way they work with others, because that’s how new programs become part of the cultural fabric of the organization.

Champions thrive on ‘connecting’ ideas- through brainstorming and sharing better practices across different businesses. Sometimes, the simpler the idea, the easier its adoption and the better its stickiness and these can come up from those who are front and center. Often these can turn into simple competitive initiatives between businesses that add an element of fun while driving home the key cultural messages.

Culture evolves and its sustainability is not guaranteed unless multiple formal and informal mechanisms take hold within the organization. Working on the A-B-Cs of culture change requires a strong alignment to the business strategy, clear ownership by leaders and simple processes woven into the fabric of employee experiences.