How to Get Executive Buy-In For Organizational Culture Change

ITA Group
ITA Group

Group of human resources professionals presenting to an executive team

It’s a popular mantra among business leaders: “everyone’s in sales.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone’s out on sales calls. Rather, every member of your team represents the company. A gold-medal salesperson might sell a car, but a terse service manager, grumbling technician or clueless cashier can lose more sales down the road.

This team mentality is organizational culture.

HR professionals can see this, but executives, broadly speaking, might not see the importance of positive culture throughout the business. Which isn’t anything to fault them for, necessarily—they’re focused on financial figures and the overall health and longevity of the company.

Still, the challenge is this: how can those outside of the executive suite convince decision makers to consider how individual attitudes influence company-wide growth? And how can they shepherd them toward organizational culture change?

Follow these five steps to get the green light and start changing organizational culture for the better.

1. Speak Their Language

The trick to marketing anything is speaking to your audience in the way they like to be spoken to.

Mountain Dew is marketed toward a young adult audience, so they keep things active and lively. Walgreens knows their audience needs to feel trusted and cared for, so they weave that into their messaging. Executives should be approached in much the same way.

Executives are just like us, but they don’t deal with the day-to-day operations; rather, the overarching strategy and trajectory of the company. And that trajectory always centers on profitability.

When presenting culture initiatives to your executives, put heavy emphasis on the bottom line. While people and improvement are always front-of-mind for them, you’re more likely to raise eyebrows when you’re talking about the financial impact culture can make.

Need a few fast figures about why organizational culture matters? Here are a few to get you started:

  • Companies with performance-enhancing cultures saw a 901% increase in stock price growth over companies without cultural impact.
  • Companies with an established company culture have a turnover rate of 13.9% compared to 48.4% at those without.
  • Healthcare expenditures at high-pressure companies are nearly 50% greater than at other organizations.
  • Some studies indicate that it costs 6 to 9 months’ salary on average every time a business replaces a salaried employee. (For an employee making $40,000, that’s $20,000 to $30,000 in training and recruiting expenses.)

Related: Check out our company culture ebook for more information about why organizational culture can’t be left to chance.

2. Relate Company Values to Culture

In fairness, money’s not the only thing that drives executives. It’s just the most easily quantified metric that points to success.

The intangible values companies hold dear—integrity, trust, respect, quality and countless others—are all inexorably tied to their organizational cultures. When cultures fail their people, values fall by the wayside.

The financial impact of organizational culture is a strong sell for executives, but tying the culture of a company into the values it professes is crucial as well.

Make a list of the values your company professes. Then, based on your personal experience, clearly outline how your company is (or isn’t) meeting that value and articulate what your company could do to realign people to that value.

Here’s how this might look:

Value Perception How to Realign

Communication People don’t want to speak up about potential concerns because they feel like they’ll be punished or ignored. Recognize and reward employees who speak up about concerns.

Leadership People don’t feel they get feedback from leaders when things go well, just when things go poorly. Use manager-to-peer feedback to let employees praise each other and their leaders.

3. Benchmark Beliefs and Perceptions

To use an analogy, if your company is a tree, the leaders of your company are the trunk. They supply the nutrients that the branches and leaves—everyone else—need to thrive. But if the trunk isn’t doing its job, neither can the rest of the tree.

In other words, the effectiveness of leaders radiates out. Your leaders are role models, and the work they do, along with the example they set, becomes their brand and legacy. It’s no small deal.

Iterative progress, something all professionals should aim for, requires honesty. If your leaders aren’t in tune with the honest feedback of the people beneath them, it can be hard to make the case for change.

There are a number of ways to uncover and enunciate the feedback your people have, including 360-degree reviews, polls and surveys. No matter the method you choose, it’s imperative to get honest responses from all sections of your company.

Here are a few questions you might want to include:

  • Is your supervisor open and approachable?
  • Does your supervisor provide you with adequate direction and expectations?
  • Do you feel that your supervisor values you and your opinion?
  • What is your level of confidence in your supervisor?
  • Is the company better off because of your supervisor?
  • What would you do to change the employee experience at (your company)?

4. Distill Results

There’s no way around it—combing through qualitative survey results can be tricky. First, there’s the sheer number of comments that must be considered, each important in its own right. Complicating matters further, these kinds of surveys yield a wide spectrum of opinions.

In terms of sheer information, that’s great. In terms of organization, that’s an obstacle.

So how can you sift through open-response questions to land on the important elements to incorporate?

  • Read through them. Just breeze through them all to get a bird’s-eye view of the tone and themes of comments.
  • Quantify word use. Try a tool such as WordCounter to see which words appear most frequently in your survey results.
  • Categorize. Using a spreadsheet, determine a spectrum of categories and group responses together.
  • Highlight. Are there answers that are overwhelmingly positive or negative? Highlight them green or red.
  • Quantify. Which categories have the most responses? Which have the most green or red responses?

5. Articulate Changes

To recap, we’ve got a trio of useful tools to help bolster executive buy-in for organizational culture initiatives:

  • The knowledge that organizational culture benefits the bottom line
  • An understanding of how to bolster stated company values through culture
  • Real-life feedback from all reaches of your company about the necessity of growth

These three key facets—financial impact, organizational value and employee feedback—are imperative to successfully winning executive approval.

Here’s the challenge: which organizational culture tactics can you put into place that address survey results, tie back to stated organizational values and have a demonstrable impact on the financial health of the company?

Depending on the specific circumstances of your company, this may or may not be simple. (Often, changes bubble up through the survey.) Regardless, articulating the mission, expense and potential impact of any organizational culture change is a must. Do your research and proposed fleshed-out ideas that are ready to hit the ground running.