Culture is like the wind. It is invisible, yet its effects can be seen and felt. When it is blowing in your direction, it makes for smooth sailing. When it is blowing against you, everything is more difficult.
4 stages of cultural transformation that create results
Let’s be honest, a strong company culture is a competitive advantage. But building one that positively influences your employees’ performance and customer engagement can be challenging. Simply put, smooth sailing can’t be achieved overnight. And it certainly can’t be achieved by top-down mandates. Instead, successful cultural transformation requires movement.
What is cultural transformation?
Cultural transformation is an ongoing process where you build an awareness of your company’s core values, identify situations where you are — or are not — aligned with those values, and develop actionable plans to communicate and encourage the adoption of any necessary change.
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t require radical organizational change but incremental adjustments supporting your company’s mission and ability to achieve long-term success. Effective transformation is about recognizing the existing culture and building processes that allow that culture to thrive.
There are four key stages to cultural transformation:
1. Define your company culture
Company culture is the experience people have at work and how that experience aligns with the company’s external brand and messaging. It is unique to every organization.
The first stage of cultural transformation is to define your company’s culture. Clarify and analyze your organization’s purpose, mission, and values. The goal is to align these to your brand. But before doing so, ensure you are satisfied with your company’s current vision.
Additionally — when defining your company culture — it is helpful to know what type of culture your organization embraces. There are four cornerstone types of company culture:
- Adhocracy culture
Also known as the “create culture,” This is a highly innovative and fast-moving environment.
- Clan culture
This is a highly collaborative company culture that thrives on teamwork.
- Hierarchy culture
As the name suggests, this is a structured work culture that follows established roles and processes.
- Market culture
This goal-oriented, high-pressure culture focuses on output and goal attainment.
Each of these company cultures is different and rooted in various core values. Depending on your company’s size, structure, and goals, you can find great success or failure in any of these.
Take a step back and understand your company’s current culture type. Then, ask yourself if this culture type aligns with your company’s purpose, mission, and values. The two must be in sync for a successful cultural transformation.
2. Align your workforce
It can become confusing when different aspects of your company and employees communicate conflicting messages. Therefore, companies must create a shared cultural understanding among their workforce at all levels. Doing so will help you with the second stage of cultural transformation, aligning your workforce.
An aligned workplace culture means that “how and why things are done” is highly attuned to “what needs to get done” from a strategy perspective. When employees understand the culture, it affects their work behaviors, decisions, and output.
So, look at your employees. Are they properly representing your company culture? Tracey Brower, author of The Secrets to Happiness at Work, argues, “Culture is significantly determined by the worst behavior it will tolerate.” Ultimately, your employees are the best representation of your current climate.
Companies that are struggling to see their culture reach their workforce should look at the following:
- Mission: Define and clarify your organization’s set of guiding principles.
- SWOT Analysis: Assess your organization’s internal strengths and weaknesses and the external factors – opportunities and threats – that can impact cultural alignment success.
- Vision: Set an aspirational description of what your organization would like to accomplish in the future by setting specific, quantifiable strategic goals.
- Objectives: Decide the strategic priorities that align with those goals.
- Internal standards: Clearly define corporate values and behaviors to drive and align with the desired organizational strategy.
- Alignment: Turn the strategic and cultural paths into measurable results and ensure company policies support business activities through employee behaviors.
Building cultural alignment is a marathon, not a sprint. Take the necessary time to help your leaders, managers, and employees all speak the same language, so your desired culture translates into your workplace.
3. Drive adoption
The best company culture doesn’t live in the employee handbook or mission statement. Instead, it comes to life through the employee experience — when people feel a sense of belonging in each experience with your company.
Work to incorporate your defined culture into behaviors and work practices. You can do this by adopting the necessary software to recalibrate systems, policies, and processes. In today’s digital era, technology plays a huge role in cultural transformation.
But adopting new software is easier said than done.
Investing in the right tools for your business is the first step. Adoption shouldn’t be about getting the latest tech kit but locating the problem areas in your current workflows. Once you recognize the problems, find their cause, and search for tech solutions to overcome them.
Keep in mind, despite the benefits of your chosen software, employees are leading the charge.
When driving software adoption, be mindful of the following:
- Software with good user experience (UX) is essential
- The best training strategy encourages employee engagement
- A strategic rollout — the roadmap to implementing the new software — is not optional but necessary
Post-rollout, remember to ask your employees for feedback. Where was the adoption successful, and where did it fall short? Driving successful adoption can take trial and error. You may need to make changes before you get it right. But ultimately, a successful adoption improves the employee experience and supports the company culture.
4. Sustain your ecosystem
Cultural transformation isn’t a destination. Once you’ve implemented changes, you must sustain them. Measuring culture change is necessary to know the impact the transformation has had on your organization. In the end, the only way to achieve the culture you want is through maintaining the impact.
Assess the cultural progress at each phase. Specifically, pay attention to these four areas:
- Business performance: Are key performance indicators improving? Are relevant growth targets being reached more frequently? What is happening with less apparent indicators?
- Critical behaviors: Have enough people at multiple levels started to exhibit the few behaviors that matter most? For example, if customer relationships are crucial, do employees update the CRM database regularly?
- Milestones: Have specific milestones been reached? For example, has a new policy successfully been implemented? Are employees living up to their commitments?
- Underlying beliefs and mindsets: Are key cultural attitudes moving in the right direction, as indicated by employee engagement surveys? Keep in mind this may be the slowest area to show improvement. Most employees will shift their thinking only after new behaviors have led to results that matter and thereby become validated.
Remember, cultural transformation is a journey. Impactful, meaningful, and viable change doesn’t happen overnight. To sustain your ecosystem, you must foster and enrich your culture through ongoing monitoring and accountability.
Lead a movement, not just another culture change initiative
Organizations that want a lasting impact must lead a movement, not just another culture change initiative. The above four stages help leaders achieve a successful cultural transformation. Once you define your ideal culture, you can align your workforce to that culture, drive supportive software adoption, and implement measures to sustain the ecosystem built.
In short, true transformation doesn’t require radical top-down mandates but small changes that support your company’s mission and goals. Culture is seen and felt throughout your entire organization. A thriving culture equates to a thriving business.