Bright and colorful posters with the values of the company displayed all over the office is not an unusual sight. More often than not- that is exactly what they are. Words on a poster. They stay there, employees are told the company values on their first day and that’s very often where it ends.
While getting into situations where we have had to analyze and diagnose culture change issues, it is more often than not, a misalignment of the values amongst leaders and employees. Over time, they are forgotten, not communicated often enough, or might simply have changed and need to be redefined as the company has grown.
We’ve spoken about the importance of communication during culture change. But what you are essentially doing is communicating and reinforcing the values through words and actions.
Many times things change significantly for the organizations- the strategic direction might change, there might be a merger, or a course correction that might need to be done in the organization’s journey. Along with this, your company values also need to be revisited.
Culture change is about behavior change. If behaviors that stem from the organizational values are not clearly defined, there is lack of alignment, lack of a common understanding and therefore display of different behaviors across the organization.
So how do you ensure there is a common understanding of the values to drive that culture change? Here are 5 things to get you started:
- Hear it from the employee themselves: Don’t assume the current state- understand it well. Conduct a qualitative and quantitative analysis to hear from leaders and employees what does each value mean to them. What do they understand of it now, and how do they see it in the future?
- Check for Alignment: Are employees saying what you want to hear? Is there alignment between the executive team and the organization, and the employees and organization?
- Understand the Gap: Understand the gap from different perspectives:
- Between the executive team and organization values- If there is a gap here, there is a red flag. Employees follow behaviors they see at the top and if the leaders are not aligned to the organizational values, you have a big problem at hand.
- Between the employees and the organization values- If there is a gap here, it is most likely a result of the gap with the leadership team. If you see alignment between leaders and not at the employee level, it is likely that the leaders are not communicating enough and cascading the right messages.
In either scenario, executive teams play the largest role in believing, displaying and cascading the values and expected behaviors of the organization.
- Redefine/Define the values: Consider this an opportunity to define your values aligned to the culture change you are trying to drive. The executive team needs to be involved at this stage of design. What is the new culture you want to drive? What do you want to be- Innovative? Agile? High Integrity? These values need be redefined clearly into acceptable and not acceptable behaviors with very clear behavioral expectations. This standard understanding needs to be communicated, communicated again, and then some more.
- Incorporate them in everything you do: ACTION is what will eventually make that change.
- This is where the actual action is: Re-look at your people processes- recruitment, promotions, performance management, delegation, communication forums, and ask yourself: is your performance management reflecting regular conversations to drive a culture of candor? Is your delegation matrix reflecting a culture of empowerment? Do you have a process where employees have the space and opportunity to innovate?
- Start looking at the high impact processes like performance management, and promotions- and see how you can change some of these processes to start reinforcing the behaviors. Positive behaviors are rewarded and negative behaviors are corrected and eliminated.
- Leaders, especially, need to set a high benchmark of these values and remember that everyone is seeing them as the role models for these values. If your senior leaders aren’t representing these values- you need to rethink if you want them to be in your organization or not. Eventually this message will need to be cascaded across the organization and be applicable to everyone.
Realignment of values during a culture change is not easy- and can take up to 2-3 years. It is tough because you are expecting people to change their behaviors. Eventually people who are aligned with your new cultural expectations will continue in the organization and those who do not relate to it will leave. What you will have is a stronger team aligned with your new cultural values driving the organization forward towards it new strategic goals.