Culture Change Secrets Revealed
In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor talks about how leading by example is no longer an empty mantra. He explains that recent neuroscience research has proven that “much of our behavior is literally contagious . . . our habits, attitudes and actions spread through a complicated web of connections to infect those around us.” Which is great news for business leaders – and any culture shifts they might want to make – if we know how to put that work in our favor.
Say you’ve just invested an obscene amount of time and money developing a new strategy for your business. It involves a small acquisition and a focus on accelerating growth in several marketplaces where it’s been ﬂ at the last couple of years. That’s probably going to require some changes around the ofﬁce…perhaps some new hires, perhaps some new tools, and deﬁnitely some new attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to make it happen. That means shifts in company culture – the commonly held set of convictions or values that dictate everyone’s interactions and decisions at work. Leaders who want to deliver on their strategy recognize that a culture shift is often essential, but it’s also elusive and challenging to accomplish.
It takes thousands of individual actions, large and small, over weeks, months, and years to shape an organization’s culture, so think about how tough it can be to change course. Culture change starts at the top. Leaders need to be clear on the behaviors and actions they want people to take. They have to walk the walk themselves, and they must help their managers make the magic happen. This is where the gap typically opens.
Most employees are deeply affected by their relationships with their managers and often the strength (or weakness) of this tie can make or break their experience with the organization. Think of managers as the connective tissue of your culture – they create a series of invisible, interwoven links between individuals, leaders, the business, and the strategy. When managers are living, promoting, and celebrating your culture, they’re bringing it to life every day at the team level. This is critical because that’s where the real employee experience takes place. Your people see, hear, and feel the culture through these daily interactions with their boss and their teammates – so, if you’re looking for real cultural change, activate your managers as the “keepers of the culture.”
Here’s how to do that:
While your leadership team understands the shifts they want to see happen, managers need to buy in to those shifts. That buy-in is more likely when they’re asked to help shape that vision. Those managers offer a unique, real-world perspective on how the necessary changes should play out at the team level. This ensures the vision is thoroughly considered by a broader audience and not made in an executive vacuum. It also paves the way to longer-term success because your managers are more likely to deliver on what they helped create.
Help your managers own the critical role they play in the effort to make culture shifts work. Show them how they make a difference and give them a clear sense of ownership for promoting the culture every day and with every person on their team. When managers see themselves as “keepers of culture,” they can appreciate how everything they do and say sends a message to the team. When managers own their place in shifting the company culture, their teams will follow that example.
Managers need their teams to experience the culture for themselves in the process of bringing it to life. Let people weigh in on how well they believe leaders are living the company values and make suggestions on how to do better. Work together to identify what behaviors and actions you all want and need to see more of as the culture shifts. And make sure to celebrate and reward employee ideas and creativity designed to further promote adopting the culture change.
Managers (and leaders for that matter) need to take every opportunity – meetings, emails, individual conversations, etc. – to tell stories. People relate to storytelling and understand tangible examples better when they’re part of a story. So tell them about an article you read in the news, or a book that inspired you because it speaks to the culture you’re trying to create. Hold up individuals and teams in the organization and tell the stories of how they’re living the culture and giving voice to company values.
The fate of your strategy hinges on everyone in your organization getting their heads, hearts, and minds around a new way of doing things – the needed culture change. Yes, it starts with you, but it sure doesn’t end there. Leaders set the tone, but managers bring it to life. They make it real, day by day, interaction by interaction until, ultimately, it’s engrained and no one can remember what it was like before.