Transforming Workplace Culture: Three Difficult Decisions Successful Leaders Make

hard decisions workplace cultureYou’ve decided it’s time to focus on your organization’s culture. You bring in your HR leader and give them the green light to start up a culture transformation program. The journey begins with energy and optimism.

A few months in, things start to go off the rails.  Other priorities force their way in, demanding attention. The journey becomes fraught with obstacles and changing directions. What seemed like an easy exercise, has become an arduous adventure. ” Why is this so difficult?” you think to yourself.

Shifting culture is a new skill for most leaders. Just like taking up a new sport, it takes practice to become an expert. While building a happier and more productive workplace feels like it should be a stress-free exercise there are some key challenging decisions you’ll need to make up front in order to be successful.

1. What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?

Before you enter into a culture transformation be very clear about what you’re trying to achieve with this effort. Having a purpose for making change will help guide your decisions. The second habit Stephen Covey writes about in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is begin with the end in mind.

If enhancing your customer experience is critical for success, ensure that everything you do has that filter attached to it. If employee retention and top talent attraction is essential, then look to make shifts around that area in your company.  If you do this hard work up front you can prioritize and systematize the necessary changes.  Don’t enter in a culture transformation just because everyone else is and it seems like the thing to do.

2. What’s your readiness factor?

On a scale of 1 -10 how ready are you for the feedback and the necessary changes required to move your organization from where it is today to where it needs to be? It’s oft said that culture starts at the top.  Indeed, a culture assessment is really a 3600 review of the leadership team. Therefore, organizational transformation will only happen with personal transformation.

When you take on a culture program you need to have the difficult conversation with yourself and your leadership team about commitment. Not just commitment to the program, which is often challenging enough, but also the commitment to grow as individuals and as a leadership team. Change is what happens to us, but transformation is what happens within us.

3. How will you deal with the culture vultures?

Everyone has them, the culture vultures. They are those employees who produce amazing results but they cause chaos and mayhem within the organization along the way. Some are like bulls in a china shop plowing their way through to the end goal, leaving lots of evidence along their destructive path. Others are more subtle, slithering their way around.

Are you really willing to confront this situation of what and how? What if that vulture is roosting in your leadership team? If you continue to condone behaviors contrary to the culture you need to have in place your transformation will never be sustainable. Perhaps that vulture will respond to coaching, perhaps they need to fly off. Before you engage in a culture transformation make sure you have this difficult conversation with yourself and with each member of your leadership team.

Difficult decisions, you’re not alone

Being clear on the problem, digging deep around commitment, and being dedicated to the “how” even more than the “what” are what the successful CEO’s of Zappo’s, Shopify, and Virgin have done to deliver their great cultures. These are just three of the areas we talk about in our complimentary Culture Strategy Discovery sessions.

The process for shifting culture can look simple. Run an assessment, determine the gap, and develop the action plan.  However, simple is not always easy. Consider these three difficult decisions before you embark on your culture shift. This upfront effort will make it more likely that you will achieve your ultimate goal of creating a happier and more productive workplace. Like the butterfly that physically transforms from the caterpillar, you have the opportunity to lift your organization and have your people take flight through a culture transformation.

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