An organisation’s cultural DNA forms a core from which everything else flows (or should do). It defines what your organisation stands for, on what basis decisions are made and regulates how things are done.
A positive and healthy culture will play a major role in the success or failure of change (and remember it’s estimated that 70% of change projects do indeed fail). This is because if everyone is aligned in their purpose, thinking and behaviours, it’s far easier to engage them in the journey. They’re also far more likely to help keep things on track and raise any concerns along the way. It’s therefore vital that every single team member and potential team member can easily understand what you’re all about; what you stand for; and where you’re going. Most importantly this message needs to be consistent throughout the organisation.
Mission and vision (ideally combined into a simple and memorable statement) provide the ‘why’, if you like – why you’re in business; why you do what you do and where you’re going with it. You don’t even have to use these standard terms. Your values explain what’s important to the organisation, what you stand for; the basis for how things are done.
Defining your culture is about 10% of the work (and even then you might need to bring in an experienced facilitator to do it). The 90% is around embedding it, keeping it alive and evolving. There’s no quick fix and you can’t just tell people and expect them to believe and live it.
10 things you could do to ensure your culture is strong enough to support successful change:
- Make sure definitions are simple and memorable. For example when it comes to values, have no more than five single easily understood words. Mnemonics and acronyms are very useful for helping people remember. For example childcare provider Bright Horizons Family Solutions uses HEART – honesty, excellence, accountability, respect and teamwork
- Lead from the top – actions speak louder than words (both are required)
- Communicate with simple, clear, consistent messages
- Introduce culture champions to positively ‘infect’ those around them and to challenge detractors
- Develop line-managers and others to work with their teams to determine:
- What does this value mean to each of us in our particular role?
- How will we know we’re doing it?
- How will this work if we make x, y, z change?
- Recruit to your culture: for example expect every candidate to be familiar with your values from their research. Ask prospective employees how they feel they could relate the values of the company to the role on offer. Look them in the eye and ask whether they can give 100% commitment to upholding your precious culture
- Be very clear about the importance of your culture during on-boarding
- And carry this on throughout all planning and decision making, day to day, in meetings, in the board room
- Measure people’s performance against your values, incorporate them in all learning and development activity, in planning, briefings and team meetings to keep them alive and kicking
- And most importantly, leaders (at all levels) must protect your culture and live your values every day and never (ever) compromise them (and if they do, own up fast and fix it faster).
It’s easy to talk about change and being agile, it’s another thing to make it happen in practice. Many organisations are not culturally geared up to handle change yet in our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, change really is the only constant. Make sure your organisation is culturally ready to not only to deal with the changes around you, though to exploit them.