Culture eats strategy for breakfast (Peter Drucker)
One of the most common challenges I’m asked to help with is translating corporate values into employee behaviours. Often values are created and communicated, maybe even measured via employee surveys but somehow they don’t create a change in employee behaviours. So how can you make a difference?
1. Link values to business strategy
The ultimate desired outcome of culture change will be to make the organisation more successful in whichever way it most values. This can include improving the bottom line, expanding to new markets, becoming more efficient at delivering services and being more influential and effective as a non-profit organisation. Whatever this outcome looks like the values need to describe what employees can do to achieve that. However it’s surprising how often values simply describe whatever the people creating them think sounds like a good place to work. This type of values tends not to gain influence within the business.
The most useful values are created from interviews and workshops with a good cross section of people from the organisation, including its most influential leaders. It often helps to have external help to achieve this to provide an objective assessment and encourage people to be open and honest.
2. Work with the CEO and board
Often a desire to change a culture comes from a level of dissatisfaction with the current culture. This can be because the business has grown and changed internally or because of external forces within the marketplace or society in general. However the existing corporate culture grew for a reason, usually encouraged by the CEO, board and other influential leaders. If this culture is to be influenced these key stakeholders need to be involved in the change and understand that it will require them to grow and develop along with their company.
Assisting top leaders in their development requires sensitivity and political astuteness. Obviously people at that level are extremely capable already and the task simply requires a little assistance for them to sharpen their skills and direction. Building a strong, trusting relationship with these individuals is essential, beyond that development is assisted by providing information in the form of observations and feedback, alongside formal and informal coaching. Facilitation of group sessions with senior teams can also help to uncover and modify political dynamics.
3. Work with employees
Employees will have chosen to work with an organisation for a reason so their motivations need to be considered when altering the corporate culture. A change from a family run business into a large national corporation could be a step too far for some employees who would rather choose to leave. However, more subtle changes can be much more easily accepted by employees as long as they are able to contribute to the change. Understanding the scope of this change at the outset of the project is essential.
Workshops including employees in creating these values can enable people running the project to understand the nature and scope of the change they are asking employees to make. They can simultaneously communicate the corporate strategy to employees and include them to shape the description of the values therefore gaining their commitment to behaving in accordance with the values.
4. Create measures
Shifting values and culture is often extremely intangible. However, if you can create tangible measures this proves the success of the project alongside celebrating achievements of the organisation and individuals involved as the project progresses.
The desired outcomes need to be identified at the outset of the project and measured at relatively regular intervals (e.g. yearly). A complete culture change can take anywhere from a year to five years (to a continuous ongoing activity) and these measures along with the communication of results can keep people working towards the goal you want to achieve. Typical measures can include employee surveys and competency frameworks as well as links to other business metrics such as bottom line and efficiency savings. The values should also be integrated into the employee development cycle and performance management measures including; recruitment, induction, appraisal, job descriptions, talent management and succession planning.
Often the communication of values is one-way (top-down or more often middle up and down). The values are created by a small select group and then published. However creatively this is done (e.g. glossy brochures, websites, screen savers, novelty items and speeches at road shows) this approach just won’t work. The values need to be communicated consistently from all areas of the company as personal, emotive and engaging stories from influential people.
Interviews and workshops can be used to identify the key elements of engaging stories that can influence others. These can be published and training can be provided to key influencers to improve their ability to tell engaging stories that support the values. These engaging stories, told consistently subtly influence the norms and values of the culture over time in all areas of the company.
What are your experiences? Do you have any questions you would like answered? Please comment on this blog.