Changing company culture

Zachary Aldwin : Milkshake in the Boardroom

Have you ever implemented a strategy or idea that seems perfectly sound? It may have even worked in other organisations.

You clearly explain it to staff and they seem to get it and nod in agreement. Three weeks later nothing has changed; the strategy is not being implemented, and in some cases it is producing counterproductive behaviour.

What you probably have is a culture clash. Culture is that invisible thread that runs through our lives.

It is present in our homes, our nation, our social groups, and importantly in our companies. Bad company culture can wreck a business more than anything else. You may have the best strategy in the world but if it meets a culture that contradicts it then culture will win every time.

The impact of culture is huge. Consider a newly married couple. The husband grew up in a family that celebrated Christmas in an extravagant way; putting up the tree was a big thing, Christmas lunch was a festive family occasion, and gifts were thoughtful.

The wife’s family on the other hand couldn’t really care about Christmas, for them birthdays were the thing.

Celebrating a birthday was something that they did in style and it had a whole horde of traditions that came with; birthday breakfasts, cake, treating the celebrant like a king for the day.

On their first married birthday the wife wakes up expecting breakfast. The husband, for whom a birthday is just another day in the cycle of getting older, just does not get why she is so upset.

That is two people in a new family. Your business, as it grows, is more than two people – each with their own backgrounds, beliefs and values.

Failure to appreciate this and create a constructive company culture that works for you will see you failing to build a successful company.

Your culture will determine how a strategy is applied. This will manifest in behaviour which will in turn manifest itself in the metrics you follow.

The task of identifying cultural flaws and shifting them within your company has to start at the bottom and work up to get a full picture of what is happening.

Correct metrics will probably highlight that there is a problem-falling sales, increased complaints, long turnaround times etc.

Underlying that is a behaviour by staff that needs to be looked at and clearly understood. The “why” behind the negative behaviour is more important than just the action.

In some cases negative behaviour can be a result of misplaced positive values.

“We care about our clients end result and want to make the product perfect for them-that is why it is taking so long to get it shipped”.

The why will highlight the culture and beliefs your company has and the reasons where it is hampering or promoting your strategy.

Realise that changing culture takes time. This is not a one memo event. It is a deliberate process of promoting, exemplifying, measuring, and rewarding change.

Many people will only engage once a core group have shifted their behaviour and they see it working.

There are probably people in your group already doing what you want them to-draw them into your group of influencers.

Focus on strengths that are already there in your culture. For the newly-weds above, for example, they both celebrate – just different events.

That common ground of celebration becomes the key culture that enables them to celebrate not just Christmas and birthdays but successes in each other’s lives.

Be an example, and be deliberate about it. Identify the behaviour you want to see. Look at ways that this can be practically implemented. Then model it.

Put it into practice. Correct others when they exhibit negative behaviour (tell them what they should be doing instead of just dumping on them for doing wrong) and reward positive behaviour (even if it is just by a compliment).

Monitor and give feedback in an appropriate manner. Do not try to change it all at once-pick one or two things to change and work through it one step at a time.

Radical transformation is the result of focused, meaningful, incremental change. In tough times a solid, constructive culture will carry you through and see you succeed where many others will fail.


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