3 Lessons for Successful Company Culture Change

Lesson_Culture_ChalkboardRecognize This! –Proactive culture change and management is strategy.

Company culture is much in the news these days, a development I am very excited to see as it shows more and more buy-in to the importance of culture as something that can be created and, yes, proactively managed.

A round-up of articles that have appeared during the last few days teach three important lessons on organizational culture:

Lesson 1 – In the Battle of Strategy vs. Culture, Everyone Wins

What’s more important? Strategy or culture? I’ve written my own opinions based on research from Booz & Co. The argument continues on, with this perspective I particularly like from Bob Frisch, managing partner of The Strategic Offsites Group:

“It’s like asking whether you would rather back a great poker player with weak cards or an average player with great cards. You’re more likely to win when you have both: a great player and great cards. The same goes for culture and strategy. You don’t have to choose. Culture doesn’t eat strategy, and the company that lets culture do so is likely to starve.”

That quote comes from a Fast Company article that goes on to share insights from the CEOs of companies with famously strong cultures, including LinkedIn, Facebook, and Jigsaw. Be sure to click through for several videos.

Lesson 2 – A Healthy Culture Has Defined Attributes that Require Effort

John Jantsch, founder of Duct Tape Marketing, pointed out in a recent AmEx Open Forum article that a healthy culture takes work over time to create, manage and maintain. He also defines seven attributes of a healthy culture:

“My belief is that a healthy culture is a shared culture, one created through shared stories, beliefs, purpose, plans, language, outcomes and ownership. These aren’t little things; these aren’t things that you get right during an annual retreat. These are things molded over time with trust and passion and caring. These are things that evolve because you work very hard at finding them, holding them and making them important.”

Yes, company cultures can “just happen” (and, unfortunately, they very often to). But you can also take control of your culture by focusing on these seven attributes.

Lesson 3 – You Can Change Corporate Culture

And that leads us to one of my go-to writers on company culture, Chris Edmonds of The Ken Blanchard Cos., who explained in detail in a recent SmartBrief article the critical role of leaders in changing culture:

“Corporate culture is the most important driver of what happens in organizations, and senior leaders are the most important driver of their organization’s corporate culture. To change an organization’s culture, all leaders must change how they spend their time and what they communicate and reinforce on a daily basis. Their focus shifts from ‘great performance’ to ‘great performance WITH great citizenship.’”

And that’s the heart of the matter – reinforcing desired behaviors through strategic recognition frequently is the foundation of proactive culture change and long-term management. It’s recognizing the how and not just the what. It’s honoring and praising the progress, and not just the results.

Have you tried to change company culture? What methods did you use? How successful was the effort?

Derek Irvine

About Derek Irvine

The VP of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their organizations. As a renowned speaker and co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and "Winning with a Culture of Recognition," he teaches companies how to use recognition to proactively manage company culture. Derek holds a B.Comm and Masters of Business Studies from the Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin.

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