Culture change is difficult. Organizations, big or small, have many moving parts, and culture exists in each part of an organization. To succeed, it pays to have a plan, but before you plan, it's helpful to understand how culture takes hold. If you want to be an agent of culture change, keep these four guiding principles in mind.
Persistent. Your commitment to the overall goal of changing the culture should remain steady. This doesn’t mean all your plans will work, and if they don’t work you should change your tactics, but don't waiver on your commitment. Being persistent will bring change over time.
Pervasive. Opportunities for culture change are everywhere. Be creative: nothing is too small to be an opportunity. Office layout, where people take their breaks, email patterns/expectations, and when meetings are scheduled all deserve a look. No single change will move your workplace culture forward, but paying attention to many small things will begin to shape and define the culture you seek to embed. Look everywhere for opportunities that could make a difference.
Positive. Few words get people more terrified than “change.” Change can be such a force for good, but it can also seem threatening. People tend to focus on what scares them about the unknown, rather than the opportunities that change can bring. As the agent of change your role will be much easier if you are positive from the start. Bursting into a meeting and ominously declaring “it’s time for some changes around here!” followed by a pregnant pause as your shift your eyes around the room, is a recipe for panic. Be clear that you intend for the workplace culture to change, acknowledge that there are sure to be growing pains, but stay positive. Your language should be forward thinking and aspirational. Your actions should back that up.
Personal. Not everyone will be convinced right away; some people might perceive culture change as threatening, radical, and undermining, or even silly. The answer isn’t to freeze them out; it’s to engage them more. Those dug in the deepest could be among your most helpful allies toward long-term culture change. They are your bellwethers; they can tell you whether change is actually happening, and whether that change is what you want it to be. Find out what they find personally threatening, and help them to see how change can be a positive for them. One by one you can create a force for change, turning cynics into believers, and finally into advocates.
As you work to make changes, some, maybe many, of your well-intentioned initiatives will backfire. That’s okay. Culture change isn’t easy, and you may find yourself rethinking, reorganizing, and restarting more than once. That’s to be expected if you’re creating a change that lasts. You can’t build something new until you knockdown what’s already there, and that can be a messy, exasperating process. Whenever you have to start over – which you will – keep these four principles of culture change in mind. Refer back to them when something goes wrong and plan around them when you’re thinking of what to do next.