Drive Change Towards Your Desired Culture

Leaders face change - or the need to change - frequently in their work environments. When leaders look at needed change from a Western-thinking viewpoint - "this is broken, we need to fix it" - they miss a critical factor in effective change leadership.

Leaders miss the opportunity to describe where and why. They need to be specific about where the change will take their team - and why it is time to make that change.

This approach can help leaders shift from frequent tactical changes to a more thoughtful, overall change - to a high performing, values aligned culture.

There are three phases involved in this more intentional, strategic change. First, leaders need to describe their desired culture in tangible, concrete terms. Second, leaders need to explain why the change is needed - how employees and customers will benefit. Finally, leaders must model the change, coach the change, and celebrate the change.

Let's look at the practices that serve leaders best in each of these phases.

Describe the desired culture - Leaders must look beyond managing just performance to proactively managing a work environment based on trust, respect, and dignity. The team (or department or division or company) needs a solid foundation of both performance and values. The team needs an organizational constitution.

An organizational constitution is a formal document that describes the team's purpose (its "reason for being" today), values and behaviors (citizenship standards), strategies, and goals. Most teams today have some form of performance expectations, which should make the creation of a formal strategy and goals a bit easier. Few teams have a relevant purpose or valued behaviors to guide interactions each day.

The team's purpose outlines what it does, for whom, and "to what end" - the meaningful contribution that compels and inspires employees to align to the team's "reason for being." The team's purpose needs to be formalized and reinforced, frequently.

Values defined in behavioral terms allow desired team citizenship to be observed and measured - just like performance goals are observed and measured. If, for example, a leader is running a retail store, he or she may need to define exactly what is meant by great customer service. Behaviors might include "pleasantly acknowledging everyone who comes within ten feet" of a team member or "providing solutions for customer's problems."

Teams will likely have three or four values, each with three or four specific behaviors that describe how team leaders and team members will demonstrate each value.

Explain why the culture change is necessary - Humans crave context! They need to understand the reasons why the change is being made. Leaders must be able to effectively communicate the business case and the engagement case for the change. The business case is commonly founded on efficiencies, quality improvements, reduction in errors, and innovative solutions customers demand. The engagement case is usually founded upon reducing drama and conflict, boosting workplace trust and psychological safety, and even boosting fun as a workplace norm.

Model, coach, and celebrate the change - This is the "accountability" phase, where leaders must help everyone on the team "live" the purpose, values, behaviors, strategies, and goals, every day. Leaders must be role models for the desired culture. Only when leaders are credible models of the desired culture will the change be seen as legitimate - and real. Team members won't embrace desired values and behaviors unless their leaders model them consistently.

Once leaders build credibility for the change with their own behavior, they earn the right to ask employees to embrace the behaviors. Leaders must be observant and present to reinforce aligned behaviors and to redirect misaligned behaviors. Leaders must celebrate traction on the desired culture - and not wait to celebrate when the change is "done." It'll never be done! It's an ongoing evolution. It's a lot of work, but the benefits are worth it.

Clients who have embraced managing to an organizational constitution enjoy significant benefits, including 40 percent gains in employee engagement, 40 percent gains in customer service, and 35 percent gains in profits, all within 18-24 months of embarking on the change.

Those are impressive numbers. My latest book, The Culture Engine, presents a step-by-step process that guides leaders in the creating of their organizational constitution - then managing to it.

What do you have to lose?

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