A Q&A on culture Change and Where to start

When we talk about culture within an organization, what is it we are referring to?  Recently, I was doing a presentation on Organizational Assessment and the focus was regarding how to change the culture within an organization, but the first thing I asked was “what does culture mean to you?”  It was amazing to hear how most everyone in the group of about 50 people had a different answer.  When you boil it all down, culture in the workplace means like-minded thinking; getting people on the same page.

As I started thinking about the best way to talk about culture change on this blog, and I thought it would be more interesting to do a Q&A format with an individual who spends her time working with organization specifically on how to change their culture (usually from an oppressed or toxic environment to one that is open, inclusive, and where the focus is a positive team-centric approach!)

Colleen F. Walker, CTRS, CMIS is the Founder and CEO of Culture Builders Consulting, LLC, a company that builds culture with play. With more than 25 years of operational, marketing and training developmental experience in the Assisted Living industry, Colleen has built a reputation as a creative, resourceful and tenacious leader that utilizes memorable strategic play and activities to elevate employee engagement and increase productivity.

Joel: To get things started, lets dive into your thoughts on what culture is?

Colleen: The definition for culture is an easy one; culture is when a group has a common way of thinking.  The hard part is that it has to be an ENTIRE group!  Everyone has heard the expression, “One rotten apple spoils the whole bushel”, that is culture in a nutshell.  Organizations can tout what their culture is, but it isn’t until EVERYONE is onboard with the thinking, that a culture truly “takes hold.”

Joel: Colleen, when people talk about changing the culture within an organization, how hard is that to actually do?

Colleen: Honestly Joel, effective culture change does not have to be difficult.  Initially, it is costly in terms of time and effort, but it is not difficult if leadership makes culture change their focus until everyone in the organization is on the same page; thinking and behaving in accordance with the desired culture.

Joel: When you talk about the time and effort needed, WHO is going to be leading that charge within the organization? Is it just one person, or is a strategy?

Colleen: The thought of culture change usually begins AFTER an adverse event.  Poor customer feedback, less than favorable regulatory compliance inspections or negative results of an associate satisfaction survey may be just a few examples of why an organizational culture change may be needed, or in some cases required.  Whatever the reason, organizational leaders usually identify the need for change, who leads the charge for change depends upon the organization.  Certainly, organizational leaders are involved, but so must be key associates.  Associates who will be “on board” at a “grass roots level”.  These associates are vital to effective change.  Once key players are pin-pointed, steps are then identified on how to roll out the new way of thinking.

Joel: OK, so now that we know WHO is leading the charge, what are the steps they need to take to get this ball rolling?

Colleen: Steps to initiating culture change begin with the organization developing exactly WHAT they want their culture to be.  This task is more difficult than it may seem as culture is not just words, culture is emotionally driven. Culture is a FEELING that everyone associated with the organization can verbalize.

Once an organization identifies their vision of culture, leadership is the first to be “folded into” the thought process.  Key players are “on-boarded” next.  Finally, organizational roll out of the “new way to thinking and doing:” occurs. 

Joel: Colleen, as people start this endeavor, what are some things that they should keep in mind regarding culture change?

Colleen: That is a great question Joel.  A couple of things to keep in mind about culture change:

1.  Consistent, authentic modeling and implementation of the culture MUST be way leadership lives and breathes.  Everyone from a leadership standpoint must be on the same page, upholding the new culture daily.  One of the most damaging acts to effective culture change is when a member of management is viewed as a hypocrite; asking others to “get on board”, when in fact, they do not completely support the process.

2. Culture change takes TIME.  Do not expect results overnight.  Instead, celebrate and embrace those who have made the choice to join this new line of thinking.  Positive culture change is slow initially, then, when everyone begins to “believe” in it, it becomes contagious…THAT is when the magic happens!

Thank you Colleen for your thoughts on Culture Change and what people should know before they start this process.  To learn more about Culture Builders Consulting, please visit their website at www.culturebuildersconsulting.com or contact Colleen at colleen@culturebuildersconsulting.com

Final thoughts: For you to really perform an organizational assessment, you need to have an understanding that within the organization, the leader sets the vision and builds the culture around that vision. It is setting the expectations, clearly communicating them, and ensuring everyone knows the expectations and are abiding by them.

Culture is also having an engaged leader…

A leader who knows each team member well.

A leader who shows that they care.

A leader who knows individual motivations.

A leader who knows team motivations.

A leader makes the team feel special.

Culture starts with YOU!

Feel like you need someone to help you out with organizational assessment or build a strategy with changing the culture of your organization? Contact Harpeth Consultant Advisory Group to discuss your needs and how we can help, or contact Joel Bednoski.