Change is hard. It's uncomfortable. And there's no guarantee that once change is made, anything will get better. That's why many companies resist making changes even when the system isn't great — as long as it's working okay.
This is especially true when we talk about changing the culture of an organization. Many organizations are not willing to go through the pain of change until they recognize that without operating differently, they will not be able to produce the results necessary to survive. When senior leaders finally reach this "backs against the wall" realization, they are willing to endure the discomfort that comes with progress.
When organizations seek to change culture, they understand that who they are isn't who they want to be — that the way the world perceives the organization doesn't match the fundamental beliefs the organization has. That dichotomy typically exists because of the behavior of the employees at all levels. Think about the company that says it believes in customer service, for example, but doesn't really try to resolve customer complaints or the business that says it believes in integrity, but tries to cheat its vendors in order to save money.
The company culture in each of these examples actually is reflecting the values of the company. But the company may not want to acknowledge that through its processes and rewards systems. It is perpetuating different values than those it publicly touts.
If you are charged with changing the culture of an organization, to bring it back in alignment with the stated vision or values of a business, it can be done — if you're up to the challenge.
The first step is to designate the leader who will bring about the change. The right leader is often someone from outside the company. This person is not invested in the way things have always been done and does not mind being the new sheriff in town. Too often, in-place leaders are expected to bring about a change, but they are more likely to be invested in the status quo. Another optimal leader for change is the rebel leader. This is the person within the company who has always questioned the status quo. This person sees the need for change and is ready to help bring it to fruition.
Once a leader has been found, the leader must then promote the reason for the change and the results expected. A new leader must become familiar with the organization and immediately start convincing other leaders, formally or informally, that the organization is in danger and must make changes.
Promoting the reason for a change is important, but many businesses fail to take the third critical step: getting the buy-in of the implementers of the change. The new leader can explain why the change is a positive move, but unless the person who is actually going to be impacted believes it, the change will not truly occur. The leader has to explain to the implementer why there is an absolute need for change and what the impact is going to be on the organization at every level. This emphasis on change must be driven from the top down.
A leader may find that the only way to get people to change is to change the people. It may be necessary to fire those status quo stalwarts and hire more change-oriented employees in order to achieve your goal. Creating change agents throughout the organization, all the way down to the front line, helps ensure that everyone is on board.
Once a leader has been selected and he or she has promoted the change, received buy-in from the implementers, and created change agents throughout the organization, it may be tempting to think the change process has ended. Instead, now that employees are accepting of change, it is more important than ever to continue doing it. You can keep the organization moving forward by constantly evaluating people and processes so they can be improved.
As your organization becomes more adept at adjusting to change, instead of it being a process to be used only in dire circumstances, it becomes a way for your organization — and the employees — to continuously improve, reaching their true potential.
With his distinctive, direct and oft-humorous approach, "recovering attorney" and long-time business and executive coach Paul Glover bares his knuckles to present 76 strategies and tips to thrive in the Knowledge Economy in his new book, WorkQuake, published by Round Table Companies. The blogger for FastCompany.com coined the term WorkQuakeTM of the Knowledge Economy to capture his unique insights and tools to implement organizational change in the knowledge economy. Paul's writing has been featured in The Business Edge, Vistage, Manufacturing.net, and Food Manufacturing. He is based in Chicago.
For practical help with your change program, check out our resource kit, Managing Change in the Workplace. This comprehensive guide is intended for everyone expected to lead, manage and implement change. Visit the Managing Change in the Workplace information portal to find out how to download the free Introductory Chapter and start using this practical change management guide and workbook today.