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Culture Change in the Workplace: How to Make It Happen

June 14, 2022・6 mins read
Culture Change in the Workplace: How to Make It Happen

Your workplace culture flows from your company’s policies and practices, leadership functioning, founder values and beliefs, and shared experiences. Essentially, it’s how your organization functions and how things “get done.” So, a culture change in the workplace can happen only by changing how things get done. Words, slogans and inspirational posters will never be enough. It’s important to have a solid culture that encourages teamwork, innovation, and progress. If cracks occur in a solid culture, or if it's sour to begin with, it can lead to low employee morale, high absenteeism rates, frequent employee turnover, and overall lack of employee engagement. These things threaten your company's success — and even its ability to function. When problems emerge, it’s time to take action and seek remediation. In this article, we’re going to take a look at ways to go about improving and changing workplace culture.

Why and when is culture change needed?

Since organizational philosophies and patterns are at the heart of an organization's culture, this is a good place to study carefully before initiating workplace culture change.

Culture changes are necessary when problems begin to take shape and impact the productivity and/or profitability of an organization. Some companies facing challenges will require an overhaul of their core values, while others may simply need some tweaks to correct a wayward direction. Since organizational philosophies and patterns are at the heart of an organization's culture, this is a good place to study carefully before initiating workplace culture change. Once problems are identified, you can develop solutions. Do the following factors affect your workplace?

Difficulty with employees

Compliance problems, absenteeism, and low retention rates are all indicators that something is wrong within organizational culture. This clearly requires change, but you need to get to the root of these negative behaviors.

Influx of new technology

Have you recently integrated new technology that has been disruptive, changed job descriptions, or involved company-wide training? If so, you must show employees why technological changes benefit everyone, or at least why they’re being implemented.

New leadership

If new leadership comes in and doesn’t “mesh” with the existing culture, this can lead to problems. Or, if new leadership is brought in to address culture issues, they’ll need to gain employee trust to improve things.

Sudden growth

As organizations expand, changes are inevitable. The new conditions – the new way that things get done – can change the dynamics of the workplace. CEOs become less visible, a more hierarchical structure takes place, or governance compliance must be instituted. These are just a few examples of how growth can impact culture if proper steps are not taken.

Seeking outside talent

Companies consistently looking outward to fill key roles may leave existing employees feeling deflated. It also says something about a company culture when it doesn't develop talent or attract people with growth potential.

Mergers and acquisitions

This is one of the biggest factors that can impact company culture because it can completely change existing dynamics. The leaders of both companies must be aware that their cultures differ. Merging and supporting the best elements of their culture is at least as important as things like making sure computer systems are compatible. The value and importance of creating a great organizational culture can’t be overstated. When toxic behaviors or actions spread, it negatively impacts an organization’s ability to function properly.

The benefits of culture change in the workplace

Once it’s clear the pieces of an organization’s framework contain flaws, it’s important to take action. Plenty of damage can occur to the company and individual employees if you wait to see how things settle out. Ignoring problems comes with the risk that they'll grow and become entrenched. The rewards for taking proactive steps to create cultural change and a better work environment are worth the effort. Here are a few benefits associated with redirecting company culture.

  • Increase employee appreciation. When leadership takes the time to focus on employee happiness, they’ll be more likely to become more engaged and respond positively to cultural changes and demonstrate new behaviors.
  • Better brand perception. Once work culture improves, it will trickle over to the company’s overall reputation with customers, competitors, and potential talent. It becomes easier to attract new employees.
  • Stronger industry position. If a company can make a successful culture change, the result is going to affect both productivity and profitability, offering a competitive advantage.

Culture transformation won’t happen overnight. However, if your leadership team maintains commitment and consistency, implementing organizational culture change — along with desired behaviors — is possible.

Culture transformation won’t happen overnight. However, if your leadership team maintains commitment and consistency, implementing organizational culture change — along with desired behaviors — is possible.

How do we implement cultural change?

Business leaders can initiate change to update and improve their culture. In some cases, it requires heavy lifting to create a new culture, depending upon existing beliefs and behaviors. To start, you can look at the following to create clarity.

  • Include leadership. Obtain leadership buy-in on a need for change, and maintain it throughout the process. Make sure they’re on board and willing to make the commitment to your change efforts. Make observable changes part of their performance measures.
  • Review core value statements. Determine whether the reality of the business culture meets those statements. If not, make revisions to better reflect the company’s current beliefs and clearly communicate changes to all employees.
  • Be a role model. Demonstrate commitment with transparency. People instinctively step away when they think that “secrets” are driving organizational efforts. This can result in negative cultural issues.
  • Encourage open communication. People respond more positively and are more likely to feel pride in their jobs or their leaders when open-door policies are offered.
  • Solicit feedback. Offer frequent, anonymous employee surveys with targeted questions that can lead to change. Make sure employees know their input is valued.
  • Act on the feedback. Employee feedback can be uncomfortable for managers. Employees might point out things management does not want to hear. And not all suggestions can be, or should be, followed. But it is important for company leaders to find a way to acknowledge feedback and respond as best they can within the stands of company culture.

Be clear, and proactive, about change

It’s important to understand that people, by nature, are resistant to change. Even if the change is for the better. To help them accept changes, clearly explain why they’re needed and outline the steps you’re taking to improve things. Through transparent actions and collaboration with employees, you can create a shared perception of where the organization should be headed. If your organization’s culture is lacking and you want to cultivate a new, desired culture, it’s time to take steps to rectify problems. They won't fix themselves.

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