Changing the culture is a process, not a one-time initiative
Creating a great workplace is easy when you have a great culture. Employees are likely to be engaged and happy in organizations where trust abounds and communication flows freely. However, many organizations struggle with cultures characterized by departmental silos, hidden agendas and information that doesn’t cascade as quickly or smoothly as it should.
If this describes your company, you may have experienced frustration in attempts to change its culture. You know the kind of workplace you’d like to offer your employees, but you can’t quite figure out where to start to overcome the many barriers that exist.
Recently, I had an opportunity to examine cultural transformation in a system of community health centers. The case study of this organization offers excellent insight into the process of identifying significant cultural issues and working to change them. Here are three lessons learned that you can apply right now, to support your organization on the journey to best company status:
- Quantify the problem: How do you know that your culture needs attention? For the health system, there were two significant indicators: Declining financial performance and eroding employee morale. Both were caused by rapid growth, which left little time to look for ways to improve processes or pay attention to employees. Instead, everyone was focused on working as hard as possible to meet demand. Sometimes, too much business isn’t a good thing, especially when it seriously impedes innovation and communication.
- Connect with employees: Who better to call out the good, bad and ugly of your organization than your own staff? Talk with employees, share what you’ve identified, ask for their opinions and listen. If trust isn’t abundant in your company, this will require much time and patience. Too many organizations simply give up when staff won’t talk openly on the first try. Early attempts to gather information may be ignored or rebuffed. The health system used an “open door, stop by to visit” approach, but other methods include focus groups, surveys or informal chats. Be prepared, though, to do something with the information you glean and circle back with those you’ve spoken, especially if positive changes won’t be immediately noticed.
- Connect employees with each other: Collaboration – also known as teamwork – is powerful fuel to accelerate cultural transformation. It’s also a hallmark of great workplaces. If your company has operated in silos, it will seem foreign for people from one department or division to talk with each other, let alone work together. However, when employees from different areas come together to solve problems, wonderful things can happen. They get to know each other as people, building respect and empathy. They identify ways to help each other. They see the organization as a common bond, not a common enemy. Communication improves and trust builds.
Transforming an organization’s culture is a process, not a one-time initiative. If you’re working to turn around a culture that has been built over years, don’t expect to change it in a few months. The time and energy you invest will be considerable, but the results will be well worth the effort. Engaged, satisfied employees will want to consistently delight customers and your key company’s business indicators will show positive results.