A great organisational culture is something everyone wants, yet leaders often find it hard to engage people in culture change programs. So why aren't employees supporting the idea of improving their culture?
The first reason is because people are change fatigued. If you start talking about "culture change" they will instinctively resist. The second is that if you are telling them the culture needs to change they will hear the message as "your culture is bad" and get defensive. How would you react if someone told you that your culture needed to "change" so they were implementing a "culture change" program? It's not a very motivating or exciting thing to hear.
When it comes to generating excitement about a new culture people are making some big mistakes. The biggest are imposing culture on people (and subsequently suggesting their culture is bad); using a change methodology or talking about "culture change"; and complicating the process with complex surveys, definitions, and data.
Any one of these will make life harder than it needs to be, committing all three will almost guarantee poor results.
Talk about purpose instead. You can create a great culture by engaging your people in conversations that identify and align with a common purpose. Stop talking about culture and talk about why the company exists and what you want to achieve - not in terms of your targets or KPIs but in terms the companies contribution to making the world a better place. People need to feel like their work has meaning so try to create a compelling statement that will motivate people at a deeper level.
Once you've got a compelling purpose for the whole company, every leader in the organisation needs to align their team, department, unit, or site by discussing why they exist in the context of delivering the company purpose. They might come up with a slightly different statement of purpose and that's OK. Alignment is more important that uniformity.
The next step is to define the culture you need to deliver that purpose.
This will be the first time you mention culture so it will come from the perspective of "what culture do we need to deliver our purpose" instead of "your culture needs to change". It's a completely different way of approaching culture that will engage instead of alienate and build involvement instead of resistance. People will be much more willing to engage in this conversation than one about the culture change program you are imposing on them.
A great tip is to define your target culture in one word, or two at the most. This will get people talking.
Don't make the mistake of overcomplicating it with a handful of values with detailed explanations. People can't remember more than one or two things at a time and you want to make this memorable and engaging, so keep it simple. Your objective is to generate a conversation, not a definition.
Once you have a target culture for the organisation every leader will need to create one for their team. Don't worry if they come up with a slightly different word, alignment is more important than the whole company having one word.
The ultimate objective is to:
- Have a clear and compelling company purpose, something every team can align with
- Have every team in the business align with that purpose
- Have a clear and compelling target culture defined in one word, or two at the most
- Have every team in the business define their own target culture, something that supports the company's target culture
Imagine that. A company that has a clear purpose and leaders that are aligning their teams and defining the culture they need in one word. That would be a special place to work.
These conversations are very powerful because they keep it simple. The starting premise is purpose instead of problem and they engage people in the conversations, instead of imposing a culture change program.
Culture is a living and vibrant aspect of your organisation. It's something everyone should discuss, particularly in the context of the culture needed to deliver your purpose. So start talking about purpose and watch your organisation transform.