How to change organisation culture in 5 steps

Organisation culture has a major impact on levels of employee engagement. This post explores how to create a strong organisational culture in 5 steps.

What is organisation culture?

Organisational culture can be defined as the values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that characterise an organisation. It is shaped by factors such as leadership style, communication patterns, decision-making processes, and the overall mission and goals of the organisation. A strong organisational culture helps to create a sense of unity among employees and fosters a positive work environment where everyone feels valued and supported.

Ultimately, having a strong organisational culture can lead to greater levels of employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity, as well as improved business performance.

What does an effective organisation culture look like?

Every organisation is different, there is no one size fits all or ‘correct’ culture to have. This is why it is dangerous to look at successful companies and try to mirror what they do. Whilst you will be able imitate some of the things they do, you are more likely to recreate ‘what‘ they do, but culture is defined more by ‘how‘ they do it.

Where people feel engaged with the organisation’s culture they are likely to express the following sentiments:

  • I feel valued
  • I feel recognised for my work
  • I feel fairly rewarded
  • I feel well informed
  • I feel able to speak up
  • I understand the organisation’s purpose, mission and values
  • I feel like I ‘belong’

The key with this is that people can be engaged in their work, but if the culture is poor they will just be less engaged with the company as a whole. Of course people can feel they fit with the company culture, but if their day to day employee experience is poor they will still be less engaged than they could be…..

How to change culture?

Changing culture is very difficult to do, which is probably why most culture change ‘initiatives’ fail.

We have 5 steps for how to change your organisation’s culture. Of course it will sound simplistic, but it will work, it just takes time and courage.

organisation culture
How to change culture in 5 steps

Step 1 – be clear on your values

To maximise employee engagement you need to start with your values. There are two types of values.

Brand values define what is important to customers or service users.

Leadership values define what is important to the organisation’s leaders.

Our view is that values need to be defined top-down rather than by focus group or committee, they need to be believed in to be real and not contrived.

True values define how we behave in practice, they govern how we behave towards our people and our customers. They are more than just words, values can be seen in practice and must be consistent.

Where leadership behaviour is in alignment with what customers and employees expect, the organisation’s values will ultimately deliver performance and growth (assuming the product or service the company is selling is also what customers want).

Step 2 – be clear on what your culture needs to look like

Whilst clearly defined values are the start point for shaping culture, they can mean different things to different people. For example, ‘Innovation’ is a common value, but what that looks like in practice can vary from one organisation to the next. The risk is that one manager might reward their people for taking the initiative to implement new ideas, but another might be more risk averse and tend to want to discuss ideas before they are implemented. Both approaches may ultimately result in new ideas being implemented, but the second team might feel less ‘innovative’ than the first.

This step is about examining each value and defining what it looks like in practice. The trick here is to really test how the value will be played out in practice. What will people be doing to display the value? What do leaders need to reward? What is acceptable? What isn’t acceptable?

People who are comfortable with these behaviours feel that they ‘fit’ into the organisation’s culture. People who behave in a way that is counter to these behaviours are potentially damaging to the organisation.

These things can be defined in really specific behavioural terms and often form the basis of an organisation’s behavioural competency model or framework.

Once defined, your organisation’s behaviours can be used in all of your HR processes from recruitment through to performance management, reward, talent management and learning and development.

Step 3 – recruit people who possess the values and behaviours you need

It is crucial to ensure that everyone you hire behaves in a way that is consistent with the organisation’s values and behaviours, especially those in leadership positions.

Organisations tend to use their competency model to inform their recruitment and selection processes and this can be an powerful way to ensure new recruits are more likely to ‘fit’.

You need to exercise caution though to ensure you are not excluding people in the name of culture. We are not advocating that everyone you hire should be a mirror image of your leadership team!

In fact, there is increasing evidence that those organisations who recruit people from diverse backgrounds who think in diverse ways can have a real competitive advantage.

Step 4 – develop your leaders

Leadership style and behaviour is the main driver of culture – what leaders pay attention to, what they ignore, what they say and do, and how they say and do it is what reinforces the culture you have. Everyone in the organisation looks to their leaders to learn what to do in different situations. All employees will model these behaviours so it eventually becomes the norm – the way we do things around here. As soon as anyone in a leadership position behaves in a way that contradicts your values then it damages trust and belief in them.

Therefore, to change culture, you need to change how your leaders behave. And by leaders we mean everyone who leads others, from the CEO down to all your first line supervisors.

Where you have leaders already in place then they need development to ensure they behave in accordance with the organisation’s values and behaviours. 360 degree feedback is a great way to develop leaders. It is much more cost-effective than traditional training as it is easy to scale, measurable and results in real tangible behavioural change.

Step 5 – get rid of people who do not demonstrate your values

The final piece of the puzzle is often the hardest, but can actually have the biggest impact. Where people behave in a way that is contrary to your values and culture get rid of them. Yes, give them developmental support, even performance manage them, but there will come a time where some of your people just fail to change. So, either change the people, or change the people.

Believe us, when you do get rid of a poor leader, no-one will be surprised and no-one will lament them going.

In conclusion

Those organisations who genuinely endeavour to create a truly engaging culture are the ones who will see higher levels of business performance and be able to attract and retain the best talent.