Ben Watson, co-owner and director, employee engagement agency Blue Goose



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Culture has a significant role to play in any company or organisation’s success. It impacts the way employees behave, affects how audiences and prospects react, and influences overall business health and function.

There needs to be a clear idea of what the new culture should look like

Despite this, cultural change strategies are often introduced only to sink without trace. Unclear evidence and objectives, a lack of alignment with overall company values, insufficient buy-in from managers and team members, resistance to change and vague results can all have a negative impact, so it’s important to understand why this happens and to develop more effective tactics.

Define the desired culture

Before you can start making changes, there needs to be a clear idea of what the new culture should look like – and the problems it’s supposed to resolve.

There are all kinds of reasons why an organisation might look to implement systemic change. Perhaps the management style is too hierarchical, which is proving a hindrance to recruitment and retention. Maybe there’s a problem with bullying, which has seen a hike in complaints to HR. It could be that issues around cybersecurity, or diversity, equality and inclusion, need more recognition. Perhaps there have been shifts in regulatory mandates, or significant growth and changes in leadership.

Whatever the reason, use the data you already have to find existing patterns. Data and analytics on existing comms, exit interviews and employee-engagement surveys are just a few sources of intelligence and a good way to start conversations.

Communicate the vision

Once there is a clear vision for a cultural journey, it’s important to communicate it effectively to all employees, and to make sure that everyone understands why the change is necessary and what it will involve. This should include defining values, goals and priorities as a business, and embedding objectives and values into business-as-usual (BAU) communications.

Cultural change is more likely to be successful when employees feel they have a stake in the process

Everyone from the shop floor to the boardroom needs to take ownership if an initiative is going to work. Of course, any cultural change needs management buy-in, but top-down mandates aren’t always the best solution. A shift in cultural perception is often better achieved by ensuring it exists in the DNA of a company’s comms, training and events. By aligning it with existing purpose and values, it’ll resonate and make more sense.

Lead and involve

Having said that it’s not always a top-down journey, if business leaders don’t model the expected behaviours and values, they can hardly expect to see them in their employees. This means consistently demonstrating the new cultural practices in management actions and decisions.

Cultural change is more likely to be successful, though, when employees feel that they have a stake in the process. By involving them in the planning and implementation of the new culture, and encouraging them to provide feedback and suggestions, traction is much more likely. This could include activities such as workshops, coaching and mentoring – and recognising and rewarding progress along the way.

It’s by assuming there’s a quick fix that so many initiatives fail

It’s crucial not to fall into the trap of expecting results to happen overnight. It can take years for real change to come about. Culture change requires commitment and investment. It’s by assuming there’s a quick fix that so many initiatives fail.

Get feedback

It’s surprising how many companies miss opportunities to find out how their team members feel (an email circular with a cybersecurity training video, for example, and no request for feedback).

I’ve been working with the UK police on a positive-action programme that has been designed to address recruitment diversity and inclusion. Before team members watch a film, we ask them what they think of positive-action initiatives, and then we pose the same question afterwards. From the responses, we can ascertain whether there has been a shift – no matter how small – in cultural reasoning. It’s also important, once a film has been watched, to see it if it has landed.

It’s only by checking back and analysing responses that those trying to bring in cultural change can correct their course if needs be. This can be achieved by fostering a culture of self-determination and accountability among managers and team members, and by continually assessing progress.

Don’t wait for annual surveys; it’s better to create long and short feedback opportunities

Follow progress

There’s no point in waiting for annual surveys to come around. To maintain engagement and momentum, it’s better to create long and short feedback opportunities. Focus groups, surveys, casual conversations with communities and networks within an organisation often provide a chance to gauge true sentiment.

Attitudes to workplace culture are changing – new demands, shifts in employee-employer power balances, company values and ethics, agile working – and change is happening whether organisations like it or not. It’s only by challenging existing practices and making the right cultural shifts that firms can strengthen and shore themselves up for the future.

Watch and learn

Watch on-demand the AB webinar ‘More change? Don’t just survive, thrive!’ and earn 1 CPD unit