Communicating Culture: Part 2

Hello again. If you’re new to my blog postings, may I suggest you take a couple minutes and check out Part 1 of this topic exploration on corporate culture. In it, I talk about what culture is and suggest ways to help define your company story. It sets this post up nicely (I think).

Here, I want to discuss the concept of culture change. I say “concept,” because each organization is so unique in its practices and goals that there’s really no easy formula to guarantee a positive culture shift. But I will attempt to lay out a broad roadmap that those not faint of heart might want to travel. But I warn you, it’ll be fraught with danger. Ok, maybe not danger (there’s really no need to be that dramatic) but it will be hard, frustrating and possibly take a long time.

The first thing I suggest is to get buy in from management. This can be tricky, depending on if the leadership agrees or not with your assessment of the culture. If you feel you might have a challenging time effecting change—due to roadblocks from above—then do your homework and build a case. You don’t want to walk in unprepared. Create informal focus groups and talk to employees and trusted members of your industry. If you can solicit information anonymously, then great, as folks tend to be a bit more honest in that format. Once you feel like you’ve got a good cross-section of data, analyze it with an eye towards specific improvement projects. And wear your skin thick. You asked for this, so don’t get bent out of shape at all the negative comments. Then buck up and advocate an action plan. Sell it into leadership and move forward, openly communicating with employees. Be as transparent as possible, communicating often and consistently on how these changes will benefit the WHOLE. I can’t stress the importance of this enough because you are going to face resistance. Remember, your culture is a reflection of your people. There’s a reason your culture is what it is. This is why it’s so hard. But change can happen, as long as you and your management teams are persistent and consistent. You just have to keep moving forward and repeat the exercise with the entire organization in mind. Broaden your focus groups. Get those that are resistant to change in your core group of change drivers. If you can get them on board, the rest will come easier. Continue to analyze your data and stay focused on a few items that will have the biggest impact. There’s most likely no need to start from scratch, and in fact, trying to do so will probably alienate the very folks you’re attempting to motivate. So, stay focused and take it chunk by chunk, story by story. And if you can, evolve your stories. Get people telling a different, more positive narrative about your organization. In time your culture as a whole will evolve, as well.

Originally published June 7, 2010, on