Monday, February 22, 2010

The Formal Culture Change Process

Are you the head of a business unit—from supervisor to CEO? Do you want to motivate and empower employees, creating high morale and productivity? Use this process.

These are the formal actions you can take to quickly develop such a company culture. Some actions follow after others. For example, you should not involve lower levels in the development process until upper levels are comfortably on board. Other actions can be taken at any point, e.g. the Cultural Interviews that build strong relationships, can begin anywhere, anytime.

As you read this section, if you don't have any management levels below you, simply ignore those words and sections that don't apply. Remember, when it comes to your company's culture, if something is worth doing, a little bit is better than none at all.if something is worth doing, a little bit is better than none at all.

The Formal Steps:

1. Involve and empower the leadership team.

2.   A. Identify desired cultural Values.

      B. List the Opportunities to strengthen these values.

      C. Act on the Values and Opportunities lists.

3. Conduct Cultural Interviews, and discuss the Interview themes.

4. Involve the next level of management.

5. Organize problem-solving groups at the first level.

1. Involve the Leadership Team

Cultural change must begin at the top, with the leadership team that sets the stage for everything that happens. People below will change when they look up and see that the top team has changed. Start the involvement of the top leadership group by holding monthly hour-and-a-half Culture Leadership Meetings with them to discuss:

  •   Their own communications and relationships.
  •   Their leadership of the company's culture
  •   Planning and managing the human side of the workplace—the culture change process.

The business of these Culture Leadership Meetings is unique. They focus on the top half of the culture, the human half
These Cultural Leadership Meetings do not have the typical agenda of an operations meeting. The business of these Culture Leadership Meetings is unique. They focus on the top half of the culture, the human half, not the bottom or operations half. See The Two Halves of Culture.

Unlike operations meetings, which have firm goals, roles, responsibilities, timelines, and financial measurement, Culture Leadership Meetings explore relationships, work experiences, and communications. Through dialogue, managers learn the relationship between their own actions and the meaning those below attribute to those actions. By changing their actions and watching the effect, they explore how they as leaders can move the culture in a desired direction.

Discussing relationships—how we are working together, how our departments are working together—is sometimes unfamiliar. But after three or four of these meetings, important interpersonal issues are raised and resolved. After six meetings, productive changes will be visible. The group will probably decide to make these Culture Leadership Meeting permanent.

Should I Use An Outside Expert?

Leading a management team through the culture development process is unfamiliar to many leaders. Because of this, and also because they want to participate as an equal team member, the senior manager frequently make use of a professional facilitator, or outside expert. If you would like to discuss your company situation with me, Barry Phegan, call 415-332-2164, or email , or .

Begin the First Meeting

If you are the meeting leader, draw out from each person his or her desires for a better workplace. It is not your job to tell them what you want the company to become. Focus yourself on the process, them on thecontent. (For more on meeting management see Making Better Decisions)

Begin with a general statement giving the team a sense of the subject, without making the boundary too tight, or filling the space too much with your own thoughts. You want to stimulate an open, tentative, and general discussion.

“I would like these meetings to look more closely at the people side of our business. We have been doing a good job, but when it comes to communications and relationships, I don't think you ever get to a final point. We can build an even more engaging workplace.”

“I’d like to hear your thoughts, how it is for you here, and what you like. We can discuss motivation, communications, relationships, cooperation, teamwork, trust, empowerment, or anything else in the people area. If you have had some experiences you've really liked, here or elsewhere, I’d like to hear about these also.”

The Leader’s Role

Help the members feel comfortable discussing their relationships, their experiences at work, and themselves as a team. It will take at least a couple of meetings for the group to settle down and talk about areas they have not discussed as a group before. After two or three meetings, if you feel it is appropriate, you might move to the next step, discussing what cultural values the group would like to encourage.

2A. Identify Desired Cultural Values

When you ask a typical group of American managers, “What kind of a workplace you would like to have?” they will usually say something like this, “We would like:

  •   More trust and openness.
  •   Stronger teamwork and cooperation.
  •   Better communications between levels and across interdepartmental divisions.
  •   People speaking up and participating more at meetings.
  •   People taking more responsibility for solving their own problems
  •   Higher morale.
  •   Improved productivity and customer service.
  •   Less interference and directives from above.”

the values list will guide the culture development process
Your leadership team can develop its own list of values to guide the culture development process. Ask each person to take five minutes and write-down, on their own notepad, their answer to the question, “What kind of a workplace you would like to have? What qualities, or values, would you like to see more of around here?” Make clear that there are no right or wrong answers.

When everybody finishes, go around the group and ask each person to say just one of the things they wrote. Write what they say on the flip chart, numbering each item. Have the group summarize the list into 8 or 10 values or qualities. Title this list, "VALUES we want to support at (our) XYZ company.”

2B. List the Opportunities to Strengthen the Values

After managers describe how they want the company to be, it is time to discuss actions they can take to strengthen these values—thereby developing the culture. Their actions and the effects they have will help the management team learn about the culture. More planning, without action, won't advance the culture change process.

To start the action/opportunities list, ask each person in the management team to write-down one or two opportunities that are coming up, or things they might like to do, that could be used to move in the direction they described with their “Values” list. For example:

  • If one of the items is, "Better communications between departments." you might ask, "What do we do here, or what is coming up in your area, that by doing it a little bit differently, we would improve communications between departments?"
  • If one of the items is, "Get people more involved in decisions that affect them." you might ask,"What do we do here, or what's coming up, that if we gave it a little twist, we could get the people who are affected, more involved?"

Reassure the managers that when they list an action or opportunity, they are not necessarily committing to do something about it. Emphasize that you are all still in the brainstorming mode. What you want is a list of possible opportunities. You can all decide later what to do with this list.

2C. Combine Values and Opportunities

When the “Opportunities” list has maybe 10 or 15 items on it, put it up on the wall. Next to it post the “Values” list. Ask the group to stand up and look at the two lists. After a few minutes ask the group, "Does anyone want to take one of these, and try something during the next few weeks?"

Asked them to describe how they will connect the values to actions.

Ideally two, or three, or four people will volunteer to do something. Asked them to describe what they plan to do—how they will connect the values to actions. Invite comments or suggestions from others in the group. Write the volunteer’s initials next to each appropriate item. After they have finished, say what items you will personally work on.

Conclude with, "Next time we get together, let's hear what you did, and what happened. Remember that we are trying to learn about the culture and what happens when we take actions. It doesn't have to be 'successful'. What we want to hear is what you did, and what happened. After we discuss it we will decide our next steps. We're going to walk down this path together, step at a time, learning as we go.”

“So What Happened?”

When you all meet again in a few weeks, ask the volunteers to describe what they did and what it was like. You might find that not everybody did what they said. They might have done something different. Possibly nobody, except yourself, did anything. Sometimes everyone will have dived in, see Example—Culture Change In Three Days. It might take a while for everyone to see that this is serious business.

Say, "Let's look again at the list of opportunities, and see if there any new ones we should add.” Ask people again to volunteer to do something. Have them see that you’re very serious about this. But don't be confrontational. Just be resolute. You must have done something yourself. If the leader doesn't advance, no one else will.

Adding Other Issues

After several meetings discussing plans and change, the group should be ready to open up other areas for discussion. A particularly important one is their own relationships—how they and their departments work together—how they experience each other.

3. Conduct Cultural Interviews, and Discuss the Interview Themes.

Culture and cultural interviews are key part of the culture development process. They can be started by anyone at anytime. Ideally the leadership team will interview each other, and then expand the interview process to other parts of the company. See The Cultural Interview.

4. Involve the Next Level of Management

As the senior management group becomes comfortable with their culture leadership meetings, some managers will hold similar meetings with their own teams. As these meetings grow and expand, they open and develop the work culture across the organization. As these groups develop, they share ideas, issues, and actions.

In large organizations there may be several management levels. In a small organization there may be the owner, and one level of management. Whatever the situation, involve as many people as are interested. Involvement takes many forms. One is the meetings we have just discussed with the top management team. Alternatively you might:

  •   Ask people or groups, “How could we involve you more in decisions that affect you?”
  •   Invite workgroups to form problem-solving teams.

There's no one-right-way to develop the culture. Each has its own unique patterns and paths. Some groups look at their relationships. Others might take a specific problem and work on it as a team. If there is a right way, it is for the group’s leader to be open to the group and how it wants to develop—ope to its needs, desires and hopes.

5. Organize Problem-Solving Groups at the First Level

The biggest untapped resource in any organization is the hearts and minds of employees at the first level.

The biggest untapped resource in any organization is the hearts and minds of employees at the first level. Jumps in company performance occur when this group becomes deeply involved, when they are empowered to act on what they know, when their creativity, responsibility and ideas are wanted and appreciated.

There are as many ways to involve employees as there are stars. Examples are given on this web site. As the leadership team creates changes based on their “Values” list, and discusses their Cultural Interviews, they will build skills to make the first line meetings successful.

Employees at all levels want to have a better workplace. Even if management doesn't make a perfect first step, employees will appreciate the effort, and step forward to join hands in the new venture.

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