5 Keys to Organizational Culture Change

September 18, 2018 Joni Wickline

In its simplest definition, culture is the way things get done in an organization. It’s about the behaviors and attitudes of employees and management and how that translates into different approaches to performance—both good and bad.

If you are a leader looking to improve your organization’s current culture and work environment, here are five steps used by change practitioners that can help with your next change initiative.

  1. Look at what needs to change. Ideally, a leader should do this collaboratively with the organization’s leadership team or the entire management team. Examine culture and behavior norms as well as strategic goals. Ask these questions: “How big is the gap from where we are today to where we need to be?” “What cultural behaviors do we want to keep?” “What behaviors do we need to get rid of?” Describe the ideal state. Now ask: “What will people be doing differently?”
  2. Create a scorecard. What are the leading—and lagging—indicators of success? Prioritize short-term as well as long-term goals. What are expectations within the next six months? By year one? By year three? A scorecard allows everyone to see the targets as well as the progress.
  3. Get feedback. Leaders need to embrace feedback to understand where they may be helping or hurting the change process. Leaders set the tone for organizational culture. When the culture isn’t working, the leader must look in the mirror and ask “What am I doing that may be either serving or not serving our culture?” It may be time for a 360° leadership assessment.

A good 360° assessment is one that gets specific. The best ones I’ve seen have the leader  work with a coach to create questions for the leader’s direct reports, peers, and boss. The coach conducts the interviews, pinpoints themes (similar responses from three or more people), then prepares a report and delivers it to the leader.

  1. Be a role model for receiving feedback. A best practice for receiving feedback is for the leader to share with their team what they learned and what they are committed to improving, and then to ask the team to help keep them accountable. This is where the shift in culture begins to take shape. The leader is demonstrating that they are serious about the change and that they personally believe it “starts with me.” Leaders who take responsibility for what’s working and what’s not, and for the behaviors they personally need to embrace, will be the ones who can look back months or years later and be proud of the culture they helped create.
  2. Get a coach. You’ve heard that behavior change, no matter how small, can be difficult. Habitual behaviors are often years in the making. Regular coaching sessions help leaders not only make needed behavior shifts but also practice those new behaviors. Some coaches will even shadow a leader and give them timely feedback.

Today’s companies need to be agile and reinventive to keep up with the changing demands of their clients—and the organizational culture plays a significant role in whether those demands will be met. The culture can determine whether people will embrace a change or block it.

The leader sets the tone for leading the change to create a new culture. When implementing change in your organizational culture, use these five steps to get management and employee commitment to making a difference!

About the Author

Jonie Wickline HeadshotJoni Wickline is a Vice President with The Ken Blanchard Companies. You can read Wickline’s posts as a part of Coaching Tuesday here at Blanchard LeaderChat for ideas, research, and inspirations from the world of executive coaching.

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