How To Change Company Culture – Reaching The Tipping Point

How do you define workplace culture? And how do you keep your company culture growing in the right direction? Or change it when you know it’s not right? Company culture can make or break a business. If you’ve worked in a toxic environment you know the affect it has on morale, productivity and ultimately business results. Knowing how to shape it in a way which serves it’s employees, it’s profits and hopefully it’s customers can be the difference between success and failure.

Cultural change is healthiest when it is organic, when people are aligned with the values of their company and when they gradually adapt their behaviours to reflect those values.

However, sometimes there are circumstances, which dictate a more sudden change in culture. The company may have been acquired. The strategic direction of a company may have to change. The competitive environment might require it. The company may simply have grown too large to keep the startup mentality. This process is much more than an evolutionary development. It’s a real act of creative destruction.

Either way company culture needs to reach a “tipping point” (as in the Malcolm Gladwell book), a place where change is inevitable. To get there artificially is no easy feat.

I would like to borrow from the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne to cite four of the key obstacles that a company must overcome when attempting such a cultural change:

Cognitive. People need to be told why the change is required. It has to be explained to them, but they should also internalize the reasons. If they don’t understand it, they will never embrace it.

Resources. When culture changes, often ways of working change too. Companies need to deploy their resources in a different way, as they are finite. This can cause disruption, and people need to be ready for the effects.

Motivation. A hard one to fathom. You have to find a way of making the changes attractive to the employees. They have to want to make a change, to physically make an effort to act differently. This can only come from within, but once initial momentum has been achieved, this can take on a life of its own.

Politics. The old guard must be placated, and a new guard recruited to drive through the change. In most cases, the transition will not be without victims, and there is the risk of increased employee turnover as the business gets use to the new normal.

Implementation

In order to overcome these four obstacles, it is important to reach those people in the organization who are particularly influential. Identify them and approach them about the strategic decision. Once they have bought into the change, then the point of critical mass, the “tipping point”, will be nearer.

If key influencers tell it from their point of view, rather than saying that they were told to do it, the effects will be far more powerful.

Ensure that you tackle the “easy cultural wins” first – those that require few resources, but result in a large change. Momentum is crucial at the start of any change process.

Lastly, keep your eyes and ears open. There will be people who are trying to undermine the changes, people whose self-interest is not served by the new regime. You have to stay in touch with the situation and be prepared for some incrediby difficult moments and tough conversations.

Cultural change can be an exciting and necessary transition, but change is never easy. In fact it’s bloody hard! So it should be approached with a detailed battle strategy. If you have your loyal lieutenants behind you, and if implementation is sound, victory is almost guaranteed.