Implementing culture change in the workplace

The beginning of a new financial year is an ideal time for an organisational culture health check. Organisational culture is the psychology, attitudes, experiences, beliefs and values (personal and cultural values) of an organisation. Culture operates at a deeply unconscious level and manifests as assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of the organisation. Culture can often go unchecked if the leaders of an organisation are not proactive in reviewing how their own people internally perceive the reality, or how the organisation is perceived externally from customers and stakeholders.

The changing nature of leadership
In this Harvard Business Review article from 2009, James O’Toole and Warren argue that future leadership will be measured by “the extent to which executives create organisations that are economically, ethically and socially sustainable.” I would also add environmentally sustainable to that list. If this is the new metric then it is going to take a new kind of leadership.

Each and every one of us has to begin to think of the interconnectedness of all things and how we contribute to the culture of our own organisation. Our experience working with organisations to change their culture is that when people at all levels of the organisation get involved in creating the desired culture, the transformation is accelerated and much more achievable.

So how can you go about making a cultural change in your organisation?
Start by analysing the existing culture. How healthy is it? How long is it since it was consciously examined and analysed for its impact on the organisation in terms of its financial, social, ethical and environmental sustainability?

Take time out to identify the behaviours that have negative and unproductive effects, both on individuals and the organisation. Assessing the current culture can be done formally or informally. Doing a walk around and asking people how they feel about the company is an informal way. If you’d rather take a formal approach there are a variety of surveys that can analyse behaviours and culture in varying levels of depth and complexity.

Ways to approach transparency in the workplace
Creating an organisational culture or turning around a toxic workplace culture require transparency within the organisation. In the HBR article mentioned above, the writers – Bennis and O’Toole – lists seven ways in which managers can work to create transparency within the workplace:

  1. Tell the truth
  2. Admit your mistakes
  3. Diversify your sources of information
  4. Build organisational support for transparency
  5. Share information freely
  6. Encourage people to speak truth to power
  7. Practice having unpleasant conversations

Articulate the unconscious
In order to succeed with changing your workplace culture, you must start by thinking about the unconscious drivers that are operating and realise how powerful their impact is on how behaviours are manifested in the workplace.

Start to think about how to make conscious the type of culture you want. Articulate the vision of how the culture could be and think about the training needed to get staff to think differently. One way of getting started could be utilising a coaching questions such as “If a miracle happened and tomorrow you arrived at work to find the culture was ideal – what would be different?”

The value of coach training
Once we have a gauge of the internal perceptions of the company, we can start addressing the key areas for change. A significant shift for many companies is to incorporate coaching as a leadership style. Incorporating coach training for all leaders means that leadership becomes supportive and collaborative, rather than directive and authoritative, which creates a culture where people feel engaged and empowered.

Another very effective way to create large-scale organisational culture change is introducing training and coaching around positive psychology. The work and tools of Martin Seligman  is well recognised for the shift it can create from people having a problem-focused approach to focusing on solutions.

Finally, remember that the more we learn to understand and appreciate the diversity in our workplace, the healthier our culture becomes.

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