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Change the culture

So you think you can change the culture?

  • 06 September 2018
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

So you think you can change? If your culture needs to change or to improve the place to start is where you are: in current culture. What is the way we do things around here? Understanding the behaviors, but also deeper beliefs and values is essential before you start any change.

What is normal in your current organizational culture? The students of the Positive Culture Academy came up with a long list of examples. Do you recognize any of these situations below?

Some of these things may seem trivial. But beware: people copy each other in a group, conscious or not. If trivial behaviors are repeated over and over, everyone starts doing it and the behavior spreads through the organizational system. It becomes the way we do things around here. Check your culture for "normal" behaviors. Start doing things differently, if you want to develop a more positive and productive culture.

Ticking the box

"Right now, our team culture is to be heads down, tick the boxes, and do our jobs", Jean reported. "We are not focused on how we can add more value or do our jobs better. Part of this is due to the fact that we might be acquired, but most of it is because of leadership. We all performed above 100% of our goals last year, but the majority of the team only received "Successful" performance ratings (which influence our bonuses and pay increases). The lack of recognition of the team members going above and beyond has influenced performance. People are not willing to put in extra time or effort anymore, because they do not feel like they will be recognized or compensated for their effort.

Personally, instead of using positive words to describe what we do, I was using "We just...". Putting the "just" in the sentence negates what we are doing and makes it seem unimportant. I have been speaking like this when people ask me what I am doing for work. I am obviously not very proud of who we are, what we are doing, how we are doing it, or why."

The way they work is heads down, going through the motions, not very inspired of proud. Imagine how this affects performance in the long run....

Jean's solution, for now: "I know that when I am positive, supportive, and a good role model, the team becomes more positive and motivated. I wish this positivity and motivation would also come from leadership, because not having them behaving in the same way makes it hard to care."

Saying - doing gap

This one is an oldie: we say one thing but do the other, as George shared. "We are not respectful of other people's time: We have a very poor meeting culture and tolerate missed deadlines, half delivered results and broken promises- we don't hold each other to account. Our culture is made up of a lot of tolerated behaviors, symbols and messages that are contrary to the 'values' and our vision and systems (like the performance management program) that don't support the culture we say we want. The current culture supports mediocrity and turns off our talented people.

George's solution is: "I personally try to role model the behaviors that supports the kind of culture we want. I also work with a group of 40+ "Change Champions" and we create a network of role models and champions: we try to coach others to reinforce a positive culture. I'm meeting with some of the senior leadership team who are the culture advocates and ask them to coach others on positive accountability."

Procedures rule the roost

"Policies and Procedures rule the roost and usually members of senior management are the only ones who challenge ideas during meetings. No one else does! That's the way we do things around here", is Max's experience. "We say we strive to be experts, continuous learners, and provide excellent service, with respect for all. However, we bury ourselves in P and P's: we sign off on code of conduct, and talk about market differentiation. But accountability for expected behavior is not enforced. The current culture is dense with meetings and emails. It negatively impacts performance because it doesn't really feel safe to challenge others or question their "why". This limits idea sharing and the full exploration of ideas."

Max says: "I want to increase others' comfort level with challenging others respectfully and raise the bar for respect. I tactfully question decisions in meetings, asking "why" and "what if" follow-up questions. I respond with thank you's for the explanations and/or compliment the work performed. Slowly but surely, this influences what is normal during team meetings."

Shared priorities seem missing

Sylvia's current workplace culture is positive with sharing good news and congratulating colleagues on successes. "We have a "go for it" attitude in encouraging folks to take on new challenges. But also: being late for calls, meetings, internal deadlines. I guess that's accepted because your busy with another challenge. You go for it. This propagates a lack of accountability by showing newer employees that it's normal and acceptable to be late when you're pursuing another goal."

"We have a mission-driven organization and a clear sense of the who we are and what value we add, but we often wrestle with different ideas about how to do something, and with competing priorities impacting the timeframe."

Sylvia is addressing this individualism. "I hope to help encourage a culture where people feel personally accountable to their colleagues for communicating proactively and meeting internal deadlines. I try to lead by example. I try to be a good listener and provide team members with a sounding board for problem solving, and constructive suggestions when they ask for input."

Now what?

First, check what is normal in your culture. What is "the way we do things aroud here"? See if you can address or change some of the behaviors that don't support a positive, productive organizational culture.

Next, I invite you to join the Positive Culture Academyif you want to learn more. Let's develop more positive organizations.

© Marcella Bremer. All rights reserved.