7 Ways To Positively Change Culture
The culture of many an organization is not what it could or should be. It lacks cohesiveness, purpose, and spirit. It’s obvious to leaders when an organization’s culture needs to change.
An insightful quote comes from Frances Hesselbein, president and CEO of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute and former CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA:
“Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.”
The last part is the most important: “…the realities of people working together every day.”
Effective leaders recognize and see the realities as they are, and work on changing problem realities (such as poor communication or lack of enthusiasm) while preserving positive realities (such as good planning or strong creativity).
Of course, there is no magic bullet to transforming the current realities. However, clarifying Mission, Vision, and Values is an important start.
- Clarifying Mission (or Purpose) provides direction. It helps everyone be clear on what business they are in.”
- Clarifying Vision shows where the organization is going. It helps everyone be clear on what the future looks like if things are running as planned.
- Clarifying Values provides the rumble strips to keep the organization on track. They help everyone be clear on what matters most and their priority.
Once these items have been established, leaders can then focus on various ways to positively impact the problem realities – and thereby transform an organization’s culture.
7 Ways To Change Culture
The following are a few of the ways I’ve discovered effective leaders impact the realities of how people work together.
- Start from here. No matter how bad it may look (right now), there is always hope. While it might not be the desired reality (yet), where there are willing people there is hope. Effective leaders continually foster this hope and build on it to move the organization forward
- Focus on opportunities. Issues and problems will always exist. But if the leaders always see opportunities in every challenge, so will team members.
- Ask for help. When leaders ask for help, it shows both openness to new ideas and a willingness to listen. This in turn will encourage team members to ask for help too. Healthy cultures are team based, not hero-based.
- Share stories. Facts may tell. But stories sell. People are more open to change when they can visualize why they should change and can see the outcome.
- Over communicate. In his book Turn the Ship Around!, author L. David Marquet encouraged his crew to practice more “informal communication”, something he refers to as “thinking out loud.” When team members are encouraged to share what they’re thinking or planning, even if it’s not fully fleshed out yet, it eventually leads to greater trust and collaboration.
- Push personal limits. Just as a good teacher challenges their students to stretch, a healthy culture encourages everyone to stretch their best. While it can be uncomfortable at times, it leads to better outcomes, and better people.
- Promote shared learning. People like to share what they know and have experienced. This can occur formally in team meetings where one (or more) share something they have learned. Or this can be done informally, where individuals are encouraged share what they know with others on a one-on-one basis. Important: reward desired behavior!
With a clearly defined Mission, Vision, and Values, and when leaders proactively address problem realities, it is absolutely possible to positively change an organization’s culture.