For many organizational leaders, culture is still elusive and hard to define. Intuitively, everyone knows culture is important, but putting numbers to this intangible asset grabs leaders’ attention, allowing it to be quantified, measured and better understood. In my last article, Why Culture Still Matters, I discussed how culture can be a competitive advantage. In this post I want to concentrate on how to change a culture using a data-driven approach.
In a current project, I am working with a global technology firm that is substantially changing the way it does business and its current business model. These changes, if successful, will catapult this company into the stratosphere way above its competitors. An important part of the process is changing the culture to one that is innovative, market-driven and curious (to name a few descriptors).
How to determine what the ideal culture looks like
The first step was to meet with leadership and define which cultural attributes were going to support the company in its strategic journey. After developing seven cultural aspects, we tested these using focus groups to determine: 1) Did the attributes resonate and 2) Do they make sense globally to the client’s diverse global workforce. The answer was a positive one, with the exception of some minor wording; the employees sampled were very positive and engaged with the new direction.
We were also able to determine key behaviors for each attribute and test their importance through an all employee survey. We then analyzed which behaviors were most important to drive the culture forward. Later, leaders were given reports that highlighted the most significant behavioral gaps and tips and techniques on how to close the gaps. Each report was customized for each leader. The data gave specific actions for each leader that would drive change in the organization.
The global road show
The next step was to start the communication process of where the company was headed and why. Fortunately the CEO is charismatic and dynamic. The man is passionate and has a vision. The employees were definitely engaged with the message. The goal was to "get the conversation started" and to announce what would be important in regards to the new culture. After each stop on the tour, we surveyed the attendees to see how the message was resonating and if the employees felt the new direction was the right one. The data said, we were on the right track. The message went around the globe in less than three months.
Finally, we conducted an all employee change readiness survey to determine if the new direction is understood, if employees know why the direction was changed and to determine the overall readiness for change for the employee population. We created a change readiness index to give us an easy number to track during the journey.
As of month four, the index score was in the 70% range, and that is good for the early stages of change. This gauge gives us direction on which groups are more ready and those that need more "messaging" as everyone adapts and reacts differently. The client developed learning labs for staff and for leaders to attend that explained the strategy and the culture change as well. Post training results were very favorable.
A detailed culture change management plan will be created using the data and information gathered at all points in the journey in order to create customized interventions that will definitely have an impact. The HR staff is now equipped with a plan that they know will work as it is based on data from their employee base. HR leaders will support business leaders to ensure the message is continued, employees are engaged and behaviors are changing. The performance management process will definitely have to be aligned with the new behaviors to sustain the changes. That project is on the agenda for next year.
Culture isn’t something you "fix"
I will have to agree with a quote from a recent article in the Harvard Business review, entitled, Culture is not the Culprit.
The corporate leaders we have interviewed—current and former CEOs who have successfully led major transformations—say that culture isn’t something you "fix." Rather, in their experience, cultural change is what you get after you’ve put new processes or structures in place to tackle tough business challenges like reworking an outdated strategy or business model. The culture evolves as you do that important work.
I have seen this in action over the last six months. Culture change wasn’t the outcome for my client, the new strategy and a new business model leading to a competitive advantage was the outcome. The culture has been molded and changed along the way the organization uses data to drive decisions.