Myth vs. Reality: Transforming Organizational Culture

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Notes from a listening session with Gartner (name provided to properly credit the source, not as an endorsement).

  1. Culture is not the work or the SOP for getting work done. It lives in the behaviors associated with product and service delivery. Example: You are asked to write a press release. Do you offer to write a social media post to accompany the press release? In some organizations volunteering is seen as inappropriate; in others it is expected that you will be more proactive. That choice of behavior = culture.
  2. Don’t just tell employees what behaviors you want (“going forward, be proactive when you think the customer needs more help”). Tell them how the behavior represents a change from prior expectations, and explain why the change is desired. Example: “In the past we only provided what customers asked for. Going forward we will offer additional support if we assess it might be needed. This will improve customer satisfaction as well as the quality of our work.”
  3. Employees are guided by the written and unwritten expectations of leadership and management. Therefore, when communicating a desired culture change, be extremely careful to avoid being judgmental (e.g. “we’re going to go from bad to better.”) Simply articulate what was happening before, what will happen in the future, and how it will be better.
  4. Culture change is not difficult, only “tedious” because you have to stick with it over time. (If leadership frequently changes and each change brings a cultural overhaul, employees will get burned out and stop paying attention. The result is that significantly more effort will be required to convince employees to pay attention and commit to the change.)
  5. When the culture change involves a remote workforce, remember that people have been working remotely for decades. Research shows that remote workers thrive when they feel connected to the work they are doing; it is that bond (not just the network of professional relationships) which serves to bind the community together.
  6. Leadership and management are typically very engaged in the issue of culture. A good conversation-starter involves asking what is wanted versus what barriers exist that get in the way of that desired future state.

Additional thoughts from me.

  1. We all have unconscious assumptions about the current state of the culture, the goal of a change initiative, and the best way to get there. Correct for the cognitive bias that results by making a conscious effort to incorporate primary/secondary research, best practices, group discussion, etc. to provide an internal corrective mechanism before launching any large-scale effort.
  2. Think of the internal culture as involving two dimensions: externally facing (to internal customers not in your core team) and internally facing (within your core team at all levels). As you optimize desired behaviors externally within the organization, there should be a corresponding optimization within the core team.
  3. Communication about culture is already happening whether you have launched a culture change program or not. Optimize what is already happening.
  4. Taking the time to step back from the work and think (not just do research, but actually just think) is a crucial investment of time that paradoxically can feel like time-wasting. When you work constantly rather than taking time out to reflect, you shortchange the work product. Busy-ness does not equal results; those moments when you just stop are the moments when you become aware of significant potential improvements.

By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal (Dossy). All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain.