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Opinion: How to generate the culture you want

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Unless you’re in the initial phase of a new enterprise, you aren’t creating a culture. The culture is already in place, and people are doing their work and accomplishing goals according to specific established values and embedded behaviors.

What makes the process of tweaking an existing culture different from creating culture? Changing your culture often encompasses crafting new values and removing previous values and work behaviors that aren’t required or are no longer efficient. Introducing a new mix of values and behaviors successfully can be a slippery slope because it requires highly effective communication and broad-based involvement with employees.

Early in the process, leaders must be clear about why the organization needs to change. In my client work, most culture-change projects originate for two reasons. Either they desire to strengthen customer experience, or they want to improve employee performance and engagement.

Culture change is serious work. It requires sound reasons, clear values, observable application, measured results, training, rewards and correction – to create accountability and foster positive change.

Before launching a culture shift, ask yourself, “Why do we want to change the culture?” Alternatively, ask, “What problem are we trying to solve? What opportunities do we want to capitalize on? And how will our current culture help or hinder our outcomes?”

Once you have clarity from asking more in-depth questions about your organizational culture, try these eight ways to get the culture you want:

1. Understand your culture accurately. Your culture consists of many elements and operates at different levels of effectiveness. Thus, it’s critical to interview all employee levels and gain an objective, honest assessment of your culture and how it’s operating.

2. Make a strong case. A manager reviewed with me her plan for persuading employees that customer service needed improvement. Her message offered strong reasons why a change was critical and how it would benefit customers, the company and all the employees. As you might guess, she received enthusiastic support from her team. Make a case for change with convincing reasons.

3. Build on the strengths, and address the weaknesses. One frustrated CEO was willing to identify the company culture’s shortcomings, but he resisted when it required his change to fix them. Shifting a culture requires the readiness to tackle weaknesses at every level.

4. Leaders take ownership. Leaders must own the change. They must make values clear, and consistently model the values and behaviors. People won’t seriously consider change unless they see leaders take it seriously.

5. Anticipate resistance. One company leader was naive about how quickly employees should support his desired changes. I explained that employees could go through several stages of change involving skepticism, anxiety and resistance before they support change. Later on, he demanded people’s enthusiastic cooperation, but that only made matters worse. Give people sufficient time to understand and accept changes.

6. Constant communications. Adequately explain to employees what is changing, how it will impact their jobs and why the change is needed. To reinforce your cultural message and values, link them to specific outcomes. People are more likely to support change when they know how their efforts impact the big picture.

7. Take a high-performance, high-development approach. Investing in training to help employees and their managers make the necessary changes is wise because it can accelerate the transformation and build cohesiveness across the company.

8. Don’t fizzle before the finish. Poor execution is the main reason for change failure. Give more thought to your execution plan than you do to any other part of your change process.

By shifting the organization’s culture successfully, leaders can work with employees to achieve incredible outcomes.

Consultant, professional speaker and author Mark Holmes is president of Consultant Board Inc. and He can be reached at


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