Avoid These Corporate Culture Change Pitfalls, Part 2

Michael Glazer is a Tokyo-based Senior Consultant whose client work spans 15 countries across four continents. Learn more about Michael here.

Last month, I wrote about how to avoid falling into three common corporate culture change pitfalls that can derail even well-laid plans. In the final part of this two-part article, I highlight tips for avoiding three more common corporate culture change pitfalls.

Pitfall 4: When people look to their leaders, they don’t see the values or culture. There is a lack of consistency in the behavior of leaders or upper management and the corporate values and culture they say they want.

Avoid this pitfall by engaging and developing your leaders.

Conveying, even inadvertently, that employees should “do as I say, not as I do” can quickly turn a change initiative toxic. So, ensure top leaders have a common understanding of the intended benefits the culture change brings to them, their business and others. Involve people in the process of creating, leading and sustaining the culture change. Make sure leaders have access to the support needed for developing their skills to do this. External executive coaches often play a valuable role here.

On a current client project, we began by investing time early in the planning stages to talk with senior leaders about their expectations for the change initiative. This included in-depth conversations about executives’ own roles and responsibilities throughout the upcoming change, not just during the phase when the values statements are created.

When launch time came, our client took a cascade approach to introduce the new values to the company, and it started with the CEO personally. As part of the cascade, leaders at every level presented the new corporate culture in their own words to their own teams. They also made a public commitment to use the corporate values and personally support the success of the change initiative. Doing this helped leaders internalize the values, and it also leverages Robert Cialdini’s influencing principle of “commitment and consistency” which holds that people generally want to appear consistent in their behaviors.

At a later stage, once the employees are familiar enough with the new corporate culture and its values, the client plans to integrate values-based behaviors into its talent systems, which includes formal learning and performance management.

Pitfall 5: Employees have no meaningful, personal connection with the organization’s values. Often times, you need to define or re-define organizational values that will serve as anchors of culture change.And it can become a pitfall if there is only a superficial understanding of the meaning of the corporate values: people lack a deep, clear personalized interpretation of what the values mean to them and how values and culture impact the way work gets done.

Avoid this pitfall by understanding how people can demonstrate what is important both to themselves and to their organizations.

At PFC, we often begin the values alignment process by helping people to first confirm and clarify their individual values and how they perceive the relationship between their own values and the corporate values. Our rationale comes, in part, from research from James Kouzes and Barry Posner’s The Leadership Challenge. They found that clarity about one’s own “personal values drives commitment. Personal values are the route to motivation and productivity” (p. 55).

Talk about how the values are relevant to work. For example, while innovation might be a shared corporate value, company expectations of how employees are – or maybe aren’t – expected to embody innovative behaviors might vary widely across the corporate planning, R&D, accounting and corporate communications departments. Create enough space for people to talk through topics like this so they can come to their own conclusions about how they choose to embody corporate values.

Bridge and link the use of corporate values to achieving organizational goals. For individuals, this means asking which corporate values are important for achieving their own performance or development goals – and what specific behaviors might be helpful. For team, departments or divisions, this means asking which corporate values need to be strengthened or used most in order for them to achieve their business plan goals.

Pitfall 6: The initial rollout is a success, but the new culture doesn’t stick. Employees report a high level of satisfaction with rollout events, but the positive buzz is short-lived and meaningful change doesn’t happen.

Avoid this pitfall by embedding the new culture in organizational systems, processes and “the way we work.”

This is often the toughest work because it takes a lot of people, all of whom need to be aligned on shared goals, a significant amount of collaborative effort over a long period of time to create the desired change. Revising, for example, a performance management system can’t be done overnight. What can be done while the systemic changes are underway is making smaller scale changes to the way teams work. These might include creating a standing agenda item during recurring team meetings to share examples of how team members are using corporate values on the job or using corporate values as a framework for reviewing team accomplishments or decisions.

It’s also important to assess the impact the new culture makes for the organization. This should be an afterthought, so make it a high priority in the early in planning stages of your culture change initiative. Broadly speaking, there are three approaches for doing this:

Employee survey. Surveys can help assess the degree to which people understand, accept and use corporate values at work.

Sharing success cases. This can be done by administering a brief survey to a representative cross-section of employees and identifying success cases and non-success cases from the survey results. Then, conduct in-depth interviews to analyze the business impact and contributing factors. This method does not provide quantitative results, but it does give insights about what is working and if any  interventions are needed.

Setting and measuring business KPIs. This takes strong senior-level commitment and starts with business leaders specifying what business results are expected from the culture change effort. This becomes the foundation for setting KPIs, getting baseline data, and measuring impact at the end of the project.

Thank you for reading this longer-than-usual post. And if you missed the first part, you can find it here. If you remember one thing from these two posts, I hope it will be that taking a high-involvement approach to leading change can increase your chances of success.