Every organization has its own distinctive culture. Some companies put a lot of work into establishing a strong culture to match the vision and mission of the organization. Others gain a culture through their most engaged employees, through their actions and leadership. At times, a company’s mission and vision change, or the culture simply does not fit the time. Changing an organization’s culture is called a “cultural transformation.”
A cultural transformation is different than establishing an organizational culture, mainly because of the change component. In a cultural transformation, we do not start from scratch. We must understand where we are, what we are changing, and where we want to be. We must communicate the change and, more importantly, we must get employees’ buy-in to the change and engage them in making it happen. We must overcome barriers, convince stakeholders of the benefits, and implement the new measures.
Cultural transformations can bring a lot of energy to an organization. They can fuel creativity, innovation, and community building. Cultural transformations are great for the bottom line when done right. But…what happens after? The changes were implemented, the new initiatives are working, employees are engaged. What happens in six months, a year, three years? A cultural transformation doesn’t just end. If we don’t continue fueling a fire, the fire will die. The same is true with cultural transformations and organizational change. So, let’s see what the most critical elements of a successful continuous cultural transformation are.
1. Change Is Everyone’s Responsibility
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Then, communicate some more.
This is probably the most important concept to keep in mind with any change initiative and especially with cultural transformation. We cannot drive change by forcing the vision of a few leaders. Change and continuous change require the participation of everyone in the organization: the execs, the workers, and management at all levels. The cultural transformation is effective and lasting only when employees are engaged in establishing the culture and are willing and proactive in identifying areas for improvement. To accomplish this, every change, initiative, and idea should be communicated to everyone in a way that makes sense to them.
The message to the execs may relate to forecasts and ROIs. The message to the line workers should explain their part in the larger initiatives and the reasons for change as they relate to them specifically. For example, a healthy company culture puts an emphasis on diversity and inclusion. Saying to the line workers something like “ensure that you practice diversity and inclusion” doesn’t mean much. However, saying, “When finishing these tasks, inform the planner and the quality control team so they can be aware of what’s coming to them” is very specific and sends the message of collaboration, teamwork, and awareness of other roles. Specific communication makes for effective communication. It also promotes ownership. Everyone should understand their role and where they fit in the process, but also the importance of their contribution to the company’s continuous cultural transformation.
2. Ongoing Training And Development
We already know that learning is not a one-time event. Reinforcements, refreshers, onboarding, and re-boarding are critical in building and maintaining new habits. When implementing change, ensure that your training strategy includes appropriate learning deliverables and assessments so you can measure and adjust the program as needed. A strong learning strategy is based on well-established goals which match the cultural transformation goals. Understanding these goals and reinforcing them through ongoing communication, training, and development provide purpose. When employees have ownership and purpose, they are engaged and more willing to go the extra mile.
3. Recognize Success
A continuous cultural transformation is difficult. It needs everyone to critically think about their behaviors, align them to the company’s values, and determine ways of enhancing them. It is critical that we remember the people who make the transformation possible. One way of creating a continuous process is to regularly share success stories and recognize those involved. Employees are motivated by recognition and praise for an accomplishment. Public recognition through sharing and spotlighting creates community.
4. Develop Great Leaders
No continuous process can be successful without great leadership. The leaders need to be the cheerleaders, they must continue to push a consistent message, the company’s vision and mission, standards, and expectations. They also should be an example. People want to be led with authenticity and vulnerability. Great leaders allow their flaws to show and share their successes and failures. Employees want to be led with caring and consistency. For us humans, these traits are natural. We find them in our families, in our friends, and we expect to find them in the work community as well.
Any successful continuous cultural transformation depends on good leaders who can sustain a community build on ownership and purpose.