Why cultural change fails

In the post on company culture problems, we identified five warnings signs for a culture that negatively impacts the company. But very often a toxic or broken culture is in fact a confused culture. A culture is confusing when employees receive conflicting messages. Sales guidelines are inconsistent with performance objectives. Leaders’ behaviour does not match with expected employee behaviour. Inconsistency breeds confusion.

Culture change programs often focus on one or a few aspects of company culture.

Ignoring alignment of all culture drivers is why most culture change fails. Initiatives that change only some cultural aspects either have no impact or – worse – have a negative impact by adding conflicting messages. Executive teams must look at the culture holistically and address all primary drivers that need alignment.

But what are the main drivers of corporate culture? There are five drivers of company culture.

1. Leadership and communication

The way leaders define and communicate the company’s purpose and direction, influences whether employees will exemplify those values. Since actions speak louder than words, the most influential messages are broadcasted by the behaviour of leaders. They should walk the talk and act consistently with the values.

2. Talent practices

Organizations should hire, onboard, develop and engage employees aligned to the company values. Throughout the employee life cycle, organizations must be consistent on why someone gets hired, called a performer and receives a promotion.

For example, advocating autonomy as a core value on your website and in your onboarding program, but allowing or even praising managers that micro-manage employees creates a confused culture.

3. Work organization

Structures, processes, teams and tools should support the desired culture. Most organizations base their operating structure on what worked in the past. They fail to see that organizing internal teams can greatly promote the desired culture. It can ensure that communication flows quickly and naturally, that ideas and responsibilities are shared between entities…

For example, when you advocate a focus on customer service, but fail to organize in such a way that issues can be solved immediately, you put a customer first culture at risk.

4. Shared values

Core values should be the compass that guides employees in their daily actions. Common ways to interact with colleagues and client, set standards for expected behaviour. The issue is not so much that companies don’t have or communicate values, but more that they fail to link values to individuals’ daily work. Employees should believe in and apply the values in their work every day. They should live the values. Luckily there are powerful tools to help you achieve this.

5. Praise for performance

One of the most powerful influencers of human behaviour is recognition. All employees should be both held accountable for and receive praise for their efforts and results in supporting the company goals. All performance, reward and recognition management practices should be aligned with the values and the desired culture.

Unfortunately, almost all research indicates that employees do not receive enough ongoing feedback, do not receive enough aligned incentives and do not receive enough recognition for their work.

To change culture, you must pull the right levers within these five drivers.

The best way to approach any culture transformation project is to assess all cultural drivers in your company and ensure the alignment of message they send to employees.

How do YOU use the culture drivers to accelerate culture change? Drop me a line at koen@arteel.eu and I’ll be happy to share some further insights.

Koen Schreurs
Helping HR & Management to boost company culture & engagement