Cultural Transformation In Business: What Culture Would You Create, If You Could?

Putting the pandemic aside, remember a time when you felt absolutely great being with people. Really pause for a moment and recall this positive experience—in the workplace, at a family gathering, or at a local café. What words describe this memorable time? What did you feel? Perhaps you felt joy, excitement, or comfort in being yourself with others. What did others say or not say, do or not do that contributed to you feeling this way? Fond memories may come up of visiting an aunt, an uncle, or a friend who welcomed you with warmth and a hug. Maybe you felt cared for and listened to, enjoying conversation over your most favorite foods that they selected and prepared with you in mind. Bottom line, for whatever reason, you felt good.

When I think of a special time in the workplace, my earliest recollection is from the first chapter of my career, when I felt great working with a team that was formed shortly after a merger between two financial institutions. We were a mixed group with some young and new, some seasoned with experience, some coming from “our” bank, and others from the “other” financial institution.

We referred to our early days together as a time when “the back door was open,” a time of losing clients and significant volumes of business. Clients from the smaller financial institution were fearful of a big bank taking over, so they took their deposits, investments, and mortgages elsewhere. It could have been described as a time of stress, with some of my colleagues worried about keeping their jobs. But we had a great team and leadership, and we overcame this adversity by successfully bringing the two different cultures together, one described as very sales-oriented and the other very service-oriented.

The results were amazing. By the end of my two years with that team, our performance went from last in the region to number one in terms of business volume growth and client satisfaction survey results! I remember the time with this team as a period of coming together, humbly motivating leadership, and of us all being proud of what we accomplished.

It was a time marked by great effort and success, pride, fun, friendship, and times of celebration. We all grew and developed professionally and personally during that time. I am so fortunate and grateful for that experience that changed the course of my life. It led me to complete a master’s degree in Human Systems Intervention, as I wanted to understand what we did right and to share it with others. My business career has been focused on organizational change and culture transformation ever since. I love my work, and I am so thankful.

I am sure you can also think of moments in the workplace when you didn’t feel so great. Perhaps there was a time when you shuddered at the thought of waking up for another day at work doing activities that were not appreciated or seemed meaningless, or you were micromanaged, or you had a “bad boss.” You and others on the team were not feeling good. Who looks forward to another day of failing to get expected results and no one listening to your ideas, dismissing all of your suggestions for doing things differently? Sure, you showed up, but you were not able to give your all. Maybe you chose to coast and not rock the boat for a while, at the same time questioning if you should leave this workplace.

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What Is Culture And Why Does It Matter? 

Culture is what shapes your great and not-so-great experiences with people. It is what creates the feeling of welcome at your family’s or friend’s home, or the sense of being valued by your coworkers or having a great customer experience at a place of business. You carry your own culture, which is the culmination of your character traits expressed through actions, norms, rituals, words, tone, and body language.

Now more than ever, businesses need to put their best foot forward to survive and thrive. How? Through culture transformation. Culture is your differentiator. It sets your business apart from other businesses—but beware—for better or worse! If you want amazing results (and of course you do), then your business needs to have amazing attributes that will enable you to get there. You can’t have top performance or win industry awards with a disgruntled workforce or dysfunctional workplace and culture.

Culture isn’t a separate strategic priority or simply a list of values. It is how and why people and businesses do what they do, how a business does business. If your culture is healthy, it will be an integral part of your business’s success, breathing life into successfully carrying out your strategic priorities and business objectives. It will be what enables you to attract and retain the best talent; it will drive the way you innovate and build new products; it will determine how your employees will be treated and feel (motivated, inspired, or disgruntled) and the way your clients will be served.

If you believe your culture could be better, it can be so. It will take effort, but the return on investment in culture is there. Simply put, smart investment in your business’s cultural transformation will yield positive results. It’s evident that a healthy culture promotes higher levels of employee engagement and well-being, lower employee turnover, better business performance, increased profitability, greater customer loyalty, and higher earnings per share.

There are also other ripple effects of a wholesome culture. For example, think about how you feel when you go home to your family and friends after a day of working with people you feel good around and enjoy working with (or the opposite). Healthy cultures are good for business, good for life, and make a difference.

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Can You Change Your Business Culture? And If So, How?

Culture transformation is an opportunity and a responsibility. To whom much is given, much will be required. If you’re a leader, you have the opportunity (and great responsibility), individually and collectively as a leadership team, to create the best environment for your people. Whether you think it’s part of your job description or not, leaders play a profound role in shaping and shepherding a culture. We can all think of leaders of a country, business, team, or family who greatly influenced and led people in a direction, good or bad, and the impacts they had.

Creating a healthy culture entails role modeling and being the change that is needed. This means leaders need to transform themselves in service of creating a better workplace for a sustainable business. That includes ceasing behaviors that are contributing to a dysfunctional workplace and developing new behaviors and structures that support a better and healthier environment and culture.

Culture transformation takes a multidisciplinary approach. Evidence-based strategies are developed using culture and leadership assessment data. Organization and leadership alignment, strategic planning, human resources, and talent management are enablers for people working effectively toward the same direction and purpose. Systems thinking, organization design, and process improvement ensure the right structures are in place. Behavior science, psychology, and adult learning inform all activities related to Learning and Development, coaching, and communications for people’s development and optimal performance.

Most of all, culture transformation is intentional. It begins with a commitment to a healthier culture and work environment. Culture transformation materializes with continued commitment to see it through. It requires deliberate assessment, analysis, planning, intervention, and sustainment of activities. Don’t be daunted by this.

Just like doctors who devote their lives to medicine, there are people who have devoted their life’s focus to helping leaders, teams, and businesses improve their culture. I am one of those hard-core practitioners! And I belong to a tribe of like-minded and capable people who do the same, the Thrive by SweetRush team. We are extremely passionate about what we do, and we know it works.

The good news is that you can change and improve your company culture. Now more than ever is the time to create better workplaces and transform your culture for the well-being of your people and business. Commit, plan, and act with intention. My sincere hope is that together we make the world a better place—one interaction, one team, one business at a time. Imagine that! If you’d like to speak about your business and culture, we would love to hear from you, to be your sounding board, and to discuss the possibilities.

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