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How do you change culture?

Any idea if there is a possibility to do this or the culture is such a deep thing of the foundation of the business that is almost impossible to change?

8 Replies

Doug Winter
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Doug Winter Entrepreneur
Founder and Director of Isotoma
Slowly ;)

It is entirely possible to change a company culture, but you can't do it overnight. You need a clear idea of the culture and values you want to achieve and you need to consider how people (including yourself) would behave in that new environment.

You need to get buy in of those people who are culturally influential within the business (this can be anyone from the CEO to the cleaner) and, by hook or by crook, get them behaving in the way you need.

You can get somewhere by just telling people, but actions need to back it up. With leaders behaving appropriately, rewarding appropriate behaviour and treating inappropriate behaviour consistently and helpfully (this doesn't mean firing people, it can just mean "management by sarcasm" if your values support that).

Keep your eyes out for toxic individuals that you do need to get rid of - some people are very unhelpful and will never change. And don't think you can do this in weeks, or even months. This could take 1-2 years to really effect a deep-rooted change.
Himanshu Chudasama
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Himanshu Chudasama Entrepreneur
Founder CEO at Veloz Techform LLP
Tough, Slow and needs drastic steps.
Doug has already elaborated in details, so there is not much I can add.

I have been a part, rather leadin a Culture change program and have been part of an action plan myself.

First and foremost Culture Change only happens after apersistent effort from the Senior and Middle management for bringing in a change. It never is easy, as people have got used to a certain behavioral pattern and also a comfort zone within an Organizational Culture.

To break the comfort zone, efforts have to be made first by taking Explanatory route, than by Exemplification and than by Exemplary methods after a set Period of time.

Do let me know if you need any help in setting up a plan.
Amparo Marin
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Amparo Marin Entrepreneur
In the Business context, to drive cultural change you need to involve all key members of the Organization.

Organizational culture can be understood as the sum of the habits of those people/ employees that belong to the organization.

The adoption of new habits and leveraging on technology as a key enabler will drive change. To change culture, the people involved need to feel that they are part of that change. To make it happen it's a matter of attitude and the key is Execution.

Tom DiClemente
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Tom DiClemente Advisor
Management Consulting | Interim CEO/COO | Coach
Hi Ryan,

I suggest you read about Change Management to get a good idea. It can be a slow process but it doesn't have to be. The basic requirement is not time but rather achieving a number of necessary steps. If the people buy in and you and your team deliver on the small wins, it can be done quite quickly. When you search, look for the "eight step change process". It's not the only reference and I don't recall the author at the moment, but it makes the key steps very clear.

Key is to establish a sense of urgency, one that everyone in the organization feels. You need to get buy-in from your management team or alternatively, your effective change agents. As with any change, you (or you and your team) need to develop a new vision and you need to preach that vision relentlessly and most of all, get buy in from everyone to the vision. You need to form objectives and develop tactical plans to reach that vision and those objectives, actions that are assigned as "I commit to this, to be done by this day, with this completion criteria". Through these action items, you guide your team toward making small, confirmable and quantifiable wins. These wins, tied as they are to your objectives, will naturally build upon one another and will combine into larger wins.

If you achieve buy-in quickly and have a get-it-done team, you can make large changes quite fast. Getting buy-in to the vision, objectives and necessary action plan usually takes the most time. And remember, you're looking for small wins first, not grandiose wins. Achieving and celebrating the small wins build confidence within the team, energizes them, and leads to the big wins and the change you want to achieve.

But don't only follow my quick comments here. Look up the change management process. I think the 8 step process I am thinking about while writing this was John Kotter's but there are many other references on this topic.

Best, Tom
Arthur Lipper
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Arthur Lipper Entrepreneur
Chairman of British Far East Holdings Ltd.
It all depends on the ability to make behavioral modification. It is an uphill fight in established companies.
William Guillory
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0
at Innovations International, Inc
Much of what needs to be done has been stated above. I tend to make a distinction between change and transformation. If you focus only on behavior without simultaneously focusing mind-set, attitude, and clearly stated different operating principles, your change will unlikely not stick. Cultural transformation is a clearly irreversible process of operation. I wrote a paper several years ago titled, "Small Acts of Inclusion--The Key to Cultural Transformation and High Performance." The essence of the process is that "Authentic human interaction is the most powerful means of influencing transformation in others--particularly, if done in small everyday personal and professional interactions." Hence, the statements above regarding "slowly." When done in a way stated in my paper, it can be much faster than we realize.

I tend to define "culture" as the predisposed dominant conscious and unconscious beliefs and values a group holds about how they should function; and is reflected in their corresponding behaviors and processes of operation. In this sense, the culture is between the ears of the group.

The essence of my comments is that if you solely work of behaviors without being clear about what you are really trying to "change," there will be no permanency, if that is the intention. Bring in a new President/CEO and things could quickly go back to the the way they were.
Yaniv Sneor
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Yaniv Sneor Entrepreneur
Founder, Mid Atlantic Bio Angels; President, Blue Cactus Consulting, Trustee, ILSE
Changing the culture of an organization is the most difficult thing to change. On top of that, no one likes change, even if they are miserable.

It is sometimes easier to hire new people than to change the culture of good people - not that I recommend it.

Be prepared for an uphill battle. If you can avoid it, and/or have other options, you should consider if these will be easier for you.

I don't know your circumstances, so it is hard to give specific advice. There are ways to go about effecting change, but they are best tailored to each situation.

If you can, seek assistance from people who have gone through it - such as those who responded to this thread (myself included).

Good luck.

Yaniv
David Dallaire
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David Dallaire Advisor
Founder/President at Fennec Marketing Group
There are a lot of variables here in doing something as important as this. If the culture stems from the Founder and the Founder is still there, then that is where you start...but also means you might be better off looking to work elsewhere.

But in terms of making it happen where it is possible, it has to start from the top. Culture is a desired way of thinking, a state of mind that everyone buys into. If it does not start from the top then no one has any reason to buy into it.

It doesn't necessarily have to be slow - every company's situation is different. Sometimes there is an underlying, desirable culture waiting to come out save for a few people in leadership who have overwhelmed it with their personal style of doing business. But if you are in a business that is being forced to change after years and years of being successful doing things one way, the "sense of urgency" referred to by another response is important.

1. Define where you want to go with the culture, communicate it clearly and be specific about examples of behaviors that need be strengthened and rewarded as well as those no longer seen as desirable.

2. Create a sense of urgency.

3. Move people in or out as needed. Since "fit" should have always mattered in the old culture too, fire and hire based on the "fit" you need for the new culture.

4. Leverage your most important asset - your customers. It's hard for individuals in an organization to resist good change if it is clearly embraced by your customers. No one gets fired for making customers happy (well, historically, not true in the era of scammy "Shareholder Value" model, but we're moving beyond that now...).
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