How to sell Organizational Culture?
How can you get buy-in to do something about the culture? It's a question people ask me often. "It's obvious: our associates are unhappy with the way we do things around here". "Our factory's performance indicators go downhill." "Retention is a disaster: new hires leave within three months." "Employee health is vital but leaders dismiss it as soft stuff. We have many employees with burnout. This workplace is a sweatshop." "The top guys are a different generation. They love their spreadsheets but don't like dialogue."
What is evident to you, might not be clear to the leaders in charge. My colleagues and I often diagnosed organizations: "What this workplace needs is..." but sometimes the client thought it wasn't enough to engage in culture change - and we couldn't convince them.
As a consultant, HR professional or interim manager you have an advisory role. Even without an official consultative role you influence your co-workers all the time. You "sell" them suggestions: you need buy-in for your ideas.
This goes for all topics but it can be a challenge regarding culture. How to get buy-in for the idea that the organization needs to work on the culture?
Share the research
Given all the talk about culture as a crucial competitive factor, you'd expect more companies doing what it takes to upgrade their organizational culture. I think that's because developing the culture is easier said than done. Decision makers might agree with the general analyses but aren't always ready to take action.
Culture helps to attract and retain millennials. Culture facilitates excellent customer experiences, and culture stirs innovation, learning, agility... and so on. Yes, that's all true. You can share the compelling research (see some examples in my earlier post) but that's rational information. People have emotions that drive movement and action. How could you get buy-in to DO something about the culture now?
Let the fears be
Marketers often use fears to trigger action. That can be a practical approach in some cases. "If we don't address the culture, we'll end up with too little staff to produce the output." "The high turnover and absenteeism rates are costing us a ton of money."
However, what stops leaders from "walking the culture talk" are also fears. "The CEO is afraid that people want a different culture that he can't live up to." "Our supervisor wants to stay in control and doesn't want the team to go wild with ideas." Real or imagined, these kinds of fears and objections might arise in a culture process, and we need to deal with them - but not before we see what we could achieve if the culture were at its best.
Focus on outcomes
What I like to do is tie the culture to something the decision maker wants to achieve. Something "positive" (instead of negative emotions like fear) that motivates the person to take action. I like to get buy-in with a variation of "What's in it for them."
- What is your goal for the next year?
- What if culture could help you achieve that?
- Would you be open to trying a few culture interventions to get closer to that goal?
- When would a culture process be a success for you?
It's often possible to tie a leader's direct interest to the organizational culture. That's because culture influences "everything" from performance, to innovation, change readiness, collaboration, and more.
You could show how culture influences whether that goal can be reached. It could be harder if they do NOT work with culture. Culture might work against them and their goals. The more crucial and inspiring the goal the more the motivation that pulls both leaders and employees toward working on a better culture!
Explore and explain
Next, I explore and address those fears. I also explain what culture can or cannot do, and what a culture development process looks like. I also explain that developing an organizational culture takes persistence. It won't happen overnight.
- What if more attention for people turns this organization into a happy-hour? - Not likely if we share a clear purpose and goals.
- What if employees get sky-high expectations about culture? - Communicate and manage expectations.
- What if I have to change my leadership style and I can't or won't do that? - If you can't an executive coach could help.
- What if this organization doesn't want to change the culture? - Staff might want to change if they know why, why now, and if they can co-create improvements for their teams.
Sometimes, the answer remains "No - we don't want to work with culture." That's okay. Some leaders and organizations aren't ready, able and willing. Then it's better not to start a culture process, raise expectations, and go through the motions only to be disappointed. But for those organizations and teams that are ready, able and willing: Culture works if you work it!
How do you get buy-in to work with culture?
Do you want to start working with culture? Enroll in the Positive Culture Academy as an individual or with your team.
© Marcella Bremer, 2019. All rights reserved.