When an organization sets out to transform its culture, it means moving from the current reality to an improved one. No doubt, this can be exciting! Because a culture is the sum total of all of the employees’ behaviors, transforming it means having your employees change the way they behave to some degree.
To successfully transform any culture and improve performance and employee engagement, there are eight key areas to focus on:
Where are we now?
Get clarity on three things: how your employees would currently describe your culture, how you would like them to describe it after the transformation and why this transformation is important. There needs to be a compelling reason for initiating something of this magnitude that customers, employees and shareholders will all agree makes the effort worthwhile.
How we can achieve it?
Creating a detailed strategy, along with a comprehensive execution plan, is essential. A strategy provides confidence to all who will be affected that the outcome is both achievable and a key priority, as well as that each step is well thought out and will produce the desired result. A strong plan includes things like predetermined checkpoints, priority realignment and stakeholder communication.
Who is leading this?
An initiative of this scale must come from the top of the organization and flow down from there. Senior managers must be visible examples of what’s required, articulate in communicating the rationale and committed to the plan until the necessary behavior shifts have occurred. This is not a “nice to have,” which is why it’s necessary to support leadership to develop the skills and behaviors needed to successfully lead in transition.
How long will it take?
Typically, businesses see changes within six months, but long-term sustained behavior change requires two to three years. Factors that determine how much time is needed include the degree of behavior change required, the number of people in the organization and the complexity of the initiative. The only true test of whether or not the transformation has truly occurred is if it outlasts the leadership who initiated it.
Who is responsible for what?
While everyone plays important roles in culture transformation, there are four fundamental groups that they can be broken into:
Senior management: This group leads the transformation from behind the scenes and lives out the transformation in their day-to-day work. They must also support it to the end with sustained consistency.
The team tasked with the execution of the plan: This group is responsible for communication, training, alignment of HR, measurement and supporting senior management.
Line managers: How these supervisors behave has the greatest influence on individual behavior because employees look to them for help, support and direction every day. A successful culture transformation involves training the talent in this group to adopt the changes for themselves and then help their direct reports do the same.
The remaining employee population: This group must embrace the changes and then implement them on the job. To do so, this group needs to be trained with the skills and behaviors they need to achieve success.
Do we need to include training?
Given that a culture is the result of what people do, employees need to be shown what and how to change. This is why training is so important. Saying people must change without training them how leads to frustration and ultimately disengagement. Choose training that will engage and resonate with specific groups within the organization, such as experiential learning.
How do we maintain momentum?
Often senior management understands the reason for change very well, but to the rest of the workforce it simply becomes another thing to do. Culture transformations occur over many months amid competing priorities and pressures. The more frequently and effectively progress is communicated to people, the greater their involvement and commitment will be. Moreover, celebrating those who are adopting the new behaviors and seeing results will help maintain momentum.
How will we measure success?
There are two ways to measure progress and, ultimately, success. The first and most important is to look at what results need to improve and then track how those metrics improve throughout the duration of the transformation. Depending on what’s being addressed, these metrics could be things like customer service measures (e.g., net promoter score), safety measures (e.g., lost time injuries) and new customer acquisition (e.g., sales revenue).
The second is employee survey data, such as engagement, understanding of the rationale, degree of leadership modeling and training effectiveness. These metrics allow an organization to make changes to the plan along the way where results are not what were anticipated.
In my opinion, there’s no such thing as a single great culture. Every organization needs its own; one that reflects what’s important to them and will help them succeed in their marketplace. Therefore, regardless of what the culture is being transformed into, it’s essential that the new culture optimizes the talent and ability of its people because they are the ones who must bring it to life.
Phil Geldart is founder and CEO of Eagle’s Flight, a corporate training organization. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.