Sometimes hardworking leaders racing to achieve business goals fail to recognize one of the main ingredients for success: their organizational cultures. As a result, they may not notice when the culture begins to deteriorate.
Their negligence affects the probabilities of business success and influences their ability to execute the company’s purpose.
When the problems reach a level where they can no longer ignore the situation, they vow to fix it.
The trouble is this: No individual, regardless of title, position, or power, can fix a broken culture or create a healthy one unaided. Only foolhardy or arrogant leaders will attempt to overhaul their cultures independently. However, leaders do have crucial roles to play in a cultural turnaround.
If you are a leader with this challenge, here are the three steps you can take to orchestrate a cultural overhaul.
Clarify a Vision for the Culture You Want and Need
Engage your organization in defining an inspiring vision for the culture. And be sure to build the image within the context you face. The culture you need will vary with the challenges facing the company and the strategy for moving forward.
Describe the Business Context
For example, do you need to become more competitive in attracting talent? Will your fortunes ride on your ability to innovate? What business or organizational challenge must your culture help you address?
Lead the charge for setting the cultural guardrails based on your business needs and goals.
Create Opportunities for Collective Conversations
You should not develop the cultural vision without input and help from others. However, you have a significant role too play in creating the space for collective discussions.
Provide multiple and varied opportunities for people to share their hopes and dreams for the workplace that will inspire them and provide their work with meaning.
Engage Your Workforce in Assessing Current Culture
You may believe you have the complete picture of what goes on in your organization. Very likely, you’re mistaken.
If your organization is large, you can’t possibly know everything that happens within it.
The evidence consistently points to a lack of cultural understanding at the top levels of organizations, no matter what size. Employees tend to hide the bad news from their leaders.
What can you do about this problem? Engage your workforce in a culture assessment.
Culture has many tentacles that probably vary across the parts of the organization. People who contribute to the culture and work within it daily understand it best.
Address Egregious Behaviors Immediately
If your assessment uncovers serious problems, get to work on those most urgent. Weed out genuinely unacceptable behaviors.
You cannot afford to turn a blind eye to abusive acts. Address these problems swiftly.
Define Clearly What Constitutes Unacceptable Acts
Ensure everyone in the organization knows exactly how bad behavior looks. Communicate the consequences of the impermissible acts and always follow through, with no exceptions.
Hold the Space for Candid Input
Create safe ways for people to report what is happening. Some may fear reprisals for reporting incidences of abuse.
Reduce the anxiety around whistleblowing by ensuring anonymity.
Explore rumors of repercussions for exposing violations of policy. And eliminate the circumstances that allowed for these ramifications in the past.
Deal with Perpetrators of Bad Behavior without Exception
If you hear talk of bullying, harassment, or discrimination, establish a zero-tolerance policy, and enforce it.
Investigate all allegations. And if you find valid evidence of abuse, deal with the perpetrators immediately.
Create the Conditions for a Turnaround
You don’t own the culture. Culture emerges from the collective actions and interactions of all who have a stake in the organization.
Your role as a leader is to create a repair and renewal process and establish the conditions to support it.
Set the Direction
You are best positioned to point the way for a cultural repair. You can and should hold the space for stakeholders to engage in the efforts. While addressing the problems in your current culture, do not forget to create an inspirational north star.
Enable all stakeholders to assist in designing the path leading to it.
Breathe Life into Company Purpose
How long has it been since you referred to the company purpose publicly? Refer to it frequently in your communications. Give examples of how it guides decisions.
Make clear how behaviors you deem to be unacceptable run counter to the company purpose.
Inspire employees by stating your firm conviction that your organization can and will align with the purpose.
Provide Space for Discussions of Values
Too many times, companies issue values statements and assume all agree on what the words imply. Know this: vague words without clear actions have no teeth.
Provide opportunities for widespread discussions of how the company values should show up. Alignment around behavioral definitions is a must in a sustainable culture.
Once you have a process for your cultural turnaround, consider carefully how you will ensure its implementation over time.
Culture change is a long-term proposition. Too often, leaders with the best intentions get distracted by new challenges that demand attention.
Remember this: your organization’s culture underpins everything necessary in your business. Nothing in your organization will work well when the culture is a mess. It deserves your unswerving attention.