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By Erika Stewart

Creating permanent intentional culture change

The culture of a company can best be described as the underlying attitudes, practices, impressions, values, roles, alliances and strategies that make up the feel or heartbeat of an organization. In order to change the overall culture, each component of the underlying structure must be aligned. These underlying components are interwoven and interdependent. They make up the company's core values. True, intentional, culture change is possible only when all systems are approached simultaneously, deliberately, and over time. There is no quick fix for a company in need of a culture overhaul.

Culture change is most successful and permanent when it starts at the top with a vision. The desired vision or core values must be identified, verbalized and written for all to share. Leadership must buy in to the vision; live and breathe the core values. For example, if the vision for a company is a culture of honesty, integrity, customer service and loyalty, then only a leader who values and embodies those traits will be successful in transferring that vision to others. After all, if you do not trust your leader, why would you follow him?

Steps to initiating and implementing culture change:

  • Develop a vision and get buy in from the leadership team
  • Communicate the vision to the rest of the team
  • Provide tools and rewards for positive change
  • Model appropriate attitudes and behaviors
  • Reinforce/reward appropriate attitudes and behaviors
  • Hold team members accountable
  • Monitor progress
  • Revisit goals frequently
  • Adjust goals as needed

Culture change happens over time and will be met with both forward progress and occasional setbacks. It is best to focus on a few small behavioral changes company-wide that will translate into huge culture impact when everyone in the company lives the core values.

When creating the vision, start with a big picture look at the organization and identify what you want others to see and feel when they hear the name of your company. Next, break the big picture into small easy to define S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely) goals. For example, what does it mean to have a culture of customer service? It might be measured something like this:

  • Smile and greet every person you encounter.
  • Introduce yourself if you are not already acquainted.
  • Say yes whenever possible.
  • Leadership is there to support front line staff, not the other way around.

Once each area of the vision is broken into small measurable parts and the leadership team is made aware of expectations, it is time to communicate with the rest of the team. Clearly and concisely state the vision, the core values that comprise that vision and the expectations for a shift in behaviors and attitudes. Leadership must model and then reinforce the behaviors in the team through proactive and repetitive positive verbal affirmation and rewards. What is reinforced will be repeated.

On occasion, team members may falter. Hold them accountable according to acceptable policies and procedures and redirect as necessary to get back on track. Culture change does not happen overnight and is not automatic just because a vision is identified. It requires hard work, persistence, positive reinforcement, measurable goals, accountability and time.

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