For organizations seeking to become more agile and innovative, culture change is often a must. But creating and sustaining the long-term adjustments that come with change is often the most challenging part of the transformation. Innovation and agility demand new behaviors from team members that can initially feel at odds with established corporate culture norms—especially if your company historically focused on operational predictability and efficiency.
But culture change can’t be achieved through a mandate. It lives in the collective hearts and habits of your individual team members and their shared idea of “how things are done around here.” Someone with authority can demand compliance, but they can’t dictate optimism, trust or conviction.
Regardless of whether you’re proactively looking to change culture or think it might be on the horizon, culture will be a focus for many companies looking to level-set following the pandemic. According to PwC, 43% of CHROs plan to focus on reinforcing corporate values to maintain or improve culture. This is because making hybrid and anywhere-work actually work in practice requires focus on the behaviors that ultimately feed your desired culture, no matter where people are physically working.
Culture Change Takes Time
A culture change doesn’t happen overnight, though. Behaviors are embedded deeply in people and moving your employees toward the vision you have requires an understanding of what motivates people to change.
“It’s fundamentally really hard to change company culture—but you can enhance its best characteristics,” says Marissa Mayer, Co-Founder of Sunshine and former Yahoo CEO. “You have to repeat your mission, and your purpose, and the values you care about, over and over and over.”
The problem is, people don’t often understand how what they do fits into the organizational mission and vision. And what’s worse, only 10% of HR leaders are confident their organizations understand their culture to begin with. That’s at the root of why we’re seeing renewed interest in refining (or revising) employee value propositions, as evidenced by recent research by Aon that found 41% of employers planned to re-evaluate their EVP in light of the crisis. This step is one of the best ways you can establish a meaningful connection for your people to the work they do and the company they do it for and creating those connections are key way to build buy-in for the culture you want.
Best Practices for Creating Culture Change
What matters more than the words you use to communicate your value to your people is the way you demonstrate the authenticity of those messages through the culture you create. To attract and retain quality, engaged employees, you’re going to need a work culture that inspires current employees and impresses potential hires.
Related: Discover how authentic, employee-centric outreach is improving organizational culture and increasing employee loyalty.
A lot of you might be thinking that’s easier said than done—and you’re right. But we’ve helped a lot of clients (including ourselves) through the process of improving company culture. Here are our top tips.
1. Uncover which behaviors need to change—and which don’t. With so many organizations lacking a consistent understanding of what their current culture is, it’s important to ensure you’re clear on behavioral goals before initiating a significant culture change. Ask questions like:
- What are the behaviors we see today we want to stop?
- What are the behaviors we see today we want to continue?
- What are the behaviors we aren’t seeing today that we need for the future?
Company culture is ultimately everybody’s responsibility to maintain but it’s only fair to expect that if people know what the desired behaviors and changes mean for them.
2. Understand motivation theory. Human beings are complex and can’t be motivated to change using a one-size-fits-all approach. Giving all employees the same incentive for achieving various tasks may have worked a hundred years ago, but the workplace today is far more complex—and employees expect to be treated in ways that are personally relevant. Finding the right blend of motivators that appeal to your employees can be complicated but it’s a must if you’re asking your people to change. Companies should do an assessment with leadership and employee focus groups to learn how different segments of your workforce are motivated and what could be done to improve motivational appeal.
3. Provide individual and collective sense of purpose for your employees. In his book, Payoff: The Hidden Logic that Shapes Our Motivations, behavioral psychologist Dan Ariely shows us how understanding intrinsic motivators that shape human behavior can “get to the heart of motivation.” He posits that motivation is driven by having a connection to an organization and feeling that you're involved in meaningful work—even if it’s challenging or painful. Research attests that meaningful work might not necessarily make someone happy, but it can give a person a sense of “purpose, value and impact—of being involved in something bigger than themselves.” You can hear more about intrinsic motivation from Ariely in the video below.
Understanding this need is important because according to McKinsey & Company, 89% of survey respondents agreed with wanting more purpose in their work, a proportion that tracks closely with academic research. Moreover, 70% of the employees surveyed said that their sense of purpose is largely defined by work. Clearly, a gap exists and your culture is one way you can nurture that need.
4. Create intentional connectedness. This is another area Ariely is passionate about, having remarked that “the more a company can offer employees an opportunity for meaning and connections, the harder those employees are likely to work and the more enduring their loyalty is likely to be.” Managers can help increase connectedness and loyalty by creating a culture that demonstrates its commitment to employees. Offering long-term investments in employees such as education, training, health benefits, career pathing and professional development, as well as investing in their well-being and personal growth, will have a positive and long-lasting impact. Creating a culture of recognition, trust and goodwill results in higher engagement and the feeling of autonomy for employees—and ultimately, connectedness to the organization.
5. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. People need to understand how they fit into an organization’s goals and objectives. Communicating your company’s mission and vision during new hire on-boarding and once a year at your annual meeting isn’t enough. Start by developing a campaign to employees that reinforces your messaging and expectations throughout the year. Help them understand how each of their roles and responsibilities support the ideals of the company and how working together using desired behaviors will improve organizational outcomes.
Related: Support and align your workforce—wherever they are—with an experience that reinforces your shared purpose, desired behaviors and commitment to them.
6. Recognize and reward desired behaviors. Recognizing star performers promotes role models for others to emulate. But don’t forget about those people who are taking incremental steps to support the overall mission and priorities within their roles. People need to be recognized for a job well done while having a sense of ownership and accomplishment. People want meaningful work that contributes value to the organization. And they’ll work harder if they have it—and are recognized for it.
At its most basic, company culture is about the way your people behave. And every behavior, no matter how complex, is malleable. But to do so, you must first establish your vision of desired behaviors and, using tactics rooted in motivational strategy, communication and recognition and rewards, build the buy-in of your people to want to make those changes.
A resilient culture is the power behind successfully navigating organizational change. Download our ebook to learn how to nurture resilient behaviors to establish a culture capable of weathering any change.