Your Organizational Culture Can Change… But It Won’t Happen Overnight

Changing your organization’s culture is certainly one of the best ways to improve its ability to succeed. But it is far from being the easiest. It requires a genuine buy-in from every member of your team, and it takes a ton of patience from leaders like you. Transforming the culture of your organization may be one of the biggest challenges you will face as a leader, but it could also be the key to your legacy.

Don’t feel intimidated by culture change. There are numerous benefits that organizations and their people can experience from a successful cultural transformation. They include:

  • Retention Advantages — With a positive culture change, you will not only be able to recruit better people; you will improve your ability to keep your best people on board.
  • Recruiting Advantages — The best people want to go to work in the best organizational cultures. Transforming your culture could lead to an enhanced ability to recruit the talent you need to rise to another level.
  • Improved Customer Service — Your customers are not exactly part of your organization’s internal culture, but they are influenced significantly by it. When your people work within a positive, fulfilling culture, they are better able to offer your customers experiences that make them loyal, lifelong fans.
  • Communication Flows more Freely — When people in an organization communicate openly with each other, information flows faster and more easily. An improved culture almost always improves communication within organizations.
  • Workplaces Become Safer — When people trust each other and communicate more effectively, they ensure higher levels of safety and care.
  • Meetings Become More Meaningful — If participation and focus in meetings has been lacking, enhancements to organizational culture can help you get people more interested and involved in meetings.
  • The Bottom Line Rises Higher — In last week’s blog post, I highlighted the signs that tell leaders when culture change is necessary. The number-one sign is a faltering bottom line. Thankfully, when you enhance your organization’s culture successfully, you make room for your bottom line to rise.

Culture impacts everything in your organization, and when your culture is healthy, the list of benefits is nearly endless.

You Need to Be the Patient, Grounded Force of Change

You have seen the signs that tell you your organization’s culture needs to change. And you know the benefits that await you and your people after you successfully transform. But what happens in between?

A culture change is something that must be led. That means it’s up to you to take control of the situation and insist on the necessary improvements. But you have to take the long view on culture change if you want it to happen effectively. That requires patience and a sense of being grounded in your leadership.

Change can be difficult and that is a fact of life. It is even harder when you have multiple moving pieces and people to contend with. Reality is that if change were easy, most organizations would be high performing and possibly wouldn’t need leaders like you.

You might have to contend with a great deal of resistance in your efforts to change the culture. Loyal team members who respect you may put their guards up and become skeptical. You will need to win them over, which is not something you can expect to happen on a quick timeline.

Furthermore, you will be challenged by the impulse to give up, give in and return to the status quo. Sadly, this can happen when leaders attempt to stoke cultural change within their respective organizations. Cultural change is so difficult that sometimes leaders succumb to the status quo, knowing that it’s simply easier to keep things the way they are than to change them, regardless of the potential benefits.

In this day and age, most of us expect things to happen quickly. Time seems to be moving faster than ever, and technology has ensured that business moves at the speed of light. But culture change is immune to the advancements that have sped up our world; it takes time, patience and leadership that understands the value in playing the long game.

Slow down. Expect bumps in the road. Expect resistance. Don’t be afraid to adjust timelines, as needed, to ensure lasting cultural change within your organization. Culture change is more important than your need to move things along quickly, so move ahead at its pace, not the pace you insist on imposing on it.

Why Attempts at Culture Change Fail

When leaders lack patience and commitment, it can spell doom for their attempts at transforming culture. But there are numerous other ways in which leaders fall short of their culture-change goals.

Sometimes leaders remove themselves from the equation altogether, leaving culture change to the HR department. Obviously, your Human Resources department ought to be involved in any culture-change efforts, but they should not be leading the charge. As a leader, you are the person responsible for the culture of your organization. If you want it to change, you need to lead the way.

Other times, culture change initiatives fail because they are not undertaken with any strategy behind them. What are your goals? How will you achieve them? What do you expect to happen when you do? Culture change is not something you can improvise; you have to approach it with a plan.

Another reason for the failure of culture-change initiatives is a lack of understanding from the top to the bottom of the organization. People in the C-Suite may understand why the culture needs to change, but they do not communicate the why, or the rationale for the change strategies effectively. Again, communication needs to flow openly and freely for any attempt at culture change to be successful.

If you can avoid these pitfalls, it is possible for you to change your organization’s culture more smoothly and effectively.

Be Aware Enough to Notice Subtle Changes

When you are in the middle of a culture-change initiative, it can feel like there’s no end in sight. The existing culture has a way of hanging on more tightly than ever when it is threatened with change and you might feel like giving up.

With your mindfulness and self-awareness, you can keep yourself open to the small, subtle victories that happen on your way to genuine, lasting transformation. If you aren’t mindful and in tune with both internal and external self-awareness, you might miss them, so be sure to pay attention.

What are the subtle changes you may notice?

  • A shared language of positivity, productivity and gratitude begins to emerge — you hear more “good morning,” “please,” “thank you” and “great job” inside the walls of your organization. In other words, communication improves.
  • The mood in meetings seems to become lighter and simultaneously more focused.
  • People start taking more initiative on projects, working to find solutions instead of leaving problems for management to solve.
  • Your top employees become more engaged and involved in work.
  • People stop focusing so much on meaningless infractions and petty problems.
  • People seem more willing to work together in teams; isolation becomes much less common.

You’ve Got This!

What makes you an effective leader? To me, the best leaders are those who can drive positive change within their organizations. If you are facing the need to change your organization’s culture, you might feel like you are not capable of steering the ship where it needs to go. But steering the ship is precisely what your job entails.

You were put in this position because you earned it, and you demonstrated an ability to inspire people. Now your challenge is to transform an entire culture. Yes, it is difficult, and it requires patience, but you are uniquely qualified to make good things happen. You can do this!

Ready for more advice on driving positive culture change within your organization? Watch this space next week for more information on how you can take your organization’s culture to the next level of success.

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