To Change Culture, Follow These 4 Steps

July 6, 2016 Derek Irvine

By Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – Culture change can be difficult, but reinforcing and recognizing core behaviors provides small victories that ultimately lead to positive change for the entire company.

If you want to start an interesting debate in the office, ask a couple of people this question: “Do you think organizational culture can be changed?”

You’ll get quite a few different perspectives, I’m sure, from one end of the spectrum to the other and probably a whole lot in between. Some might believe in the ability to change culture wholesale, while others believe that only minor parts can be changed.

The one feature that most will agree on, however, is that it will be difficult. To overcome some of that difficulty, successful culture change strategies tend share some common features. They build momentum over time, mobilizing individuals to achieve small victories and incremental improvements.

A recent infographic on Strategy+Business outlines some of those key steps, which can be distilled down into four critical areas of focus. They are:

  1. Look first for what is working within the culture you have, not the culture you want or aspire to have.
  2. Emphasize and recognize behaviors that reinforce those positive parts of your culture, and also align to core values and business results.
  3. Make those behaviors contagious by relying on informal leaders and social technologies to provide exemplars and ongoing, steady motivation.
  4. Ensure those behaviors and culture stay an active part of every employee’s experience, through the clear direction and mindset of senior and front-line leadership.

It is important to emphasize that this change process occurs within the existing fabric of organizational action, not as a separate initiative that is more easily ignored as people become preoccupied with their daily responsibilities.

The other point of emphasis is the holistic approach to change, which includes the mobilization and reinforcement of core behaviors for individuals, as well as strategies and processes to spread those behaviors across units, departments, and geographies.

These two factors help to explain why well-designed social recognition solutions are successful drivers of culture management and change.

Recognition not only keys employees in to behaviors that demonstrate high performance within a preexisting cultural context, but also provides a mechanism for those behaviors to be amplified and shared across the organization. Recognition across an entire organization results in these types of incremental improvements that cumulatively impact the bottom line.

What do you think makes culture change successful?


About the Author

Derek Irvine

Derek is senior vice president, client strategy and consulting, at Workhuman.

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