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4 Actionable Steps to Improving Your Organization's Culture

July 19, 2016

Lately, more organizations are making changes to their cultures and what they determine to be important to their identity. One potential cause of this may be the increased retirement rates of baby boomers, with their leadership positions being filled by Gen X’ers and Millennials looking to shake things up and make their mark. Another reason may be that companies see their competitors redefining who they are and are simply following suit.

Whatever the reason, a popular question organizations are asking themselves these days is, “Who are we?”. After answering that question, a slew of developmental initiatives often follow, aimed at realigning policies and procedures with the new culture and identity that was decided upon. The success of these initiatives depends wholly on the manner in which they’re carried out. A poorly planned endeavor fueled only by the enthusiasm for it is destined to crash and burn, causing more harm than good in the end. To avoid that, follow these four steps geared towards ensuring the success of organizational culture improvements.

1) Clearly Define Values

Before any large-scale organizational development project can begin, the impetus for it needs to be clear. Saying, “I’m going to improve employee satisfaction,” before gaining the support of the internal stakeholders needed to make it happen is putting the cart before the horse, and can kill the initiative before it even gets started.

Clearly defined corporate values help to determine these goals, and when values are redefined, efforts to match the day to day culture with those values can be made. Having the ability to reference ‘Newly Conceived Value X’ as the catalyst for a specific organizational development project helps frame it in a way that increases buy-in and ties it back to the new identity of the company.

2) Relay Goals Transparently

After a targeted culture improvement project has been decided upon, it needs to be made as public as is appropriate and in transparent manner. What that means is that everyone the initiative might affect or influence in any way should be informed about it, and they should be told as much as is appropriate for them to know; from the reasons behind it, how it will benefit the company, and what the desired result is.

Being as transparent as possible helps increase buy-in from those at all levels of the organization by informing them upfront of how they’ll be affected, showing them you aren’t trying to hide anything from them, and explaining in simple terms why the change is happening. There’s no reason to implement a change that isn’t going to benefit the organization in some way, so make a point to explain the benefits and your workers will understand. Keeping people in the dark as to the reasons for something creates unrest and resistance, being open and honest helps alleviate those feelings.

3) Identify Implementation Areas

Take the time to figure out which departments or areas would be best for implementing a pilot version of the initiative. Starting with a small scale pilot ensures minimal waste of resources and decreases the impact any negative side effects will have, and thinking through the areas that would be most suited for the pilot will help maximize its chances of success.

If you are thinking of introducing a new employee engagement program, start with a small number of incumbents in one department or team. Want to bring in new employees that are more customer-oriented? Introduce a method or two aimed at assessing the competencies related to that behavior in parts of your hiring process for one position before rolling them out to all roles. Figure out where the changes can have the biggest impact, and focus on those areas with a smaller scale test program first.

4) Gather (And Use) Feedback

Feedback is one of the most important aspects of success in organizations, and it’s no different in this instance. Gathering feedback should be a key step at each stage of the cultural improvement process, from finding out what employees value when determining the company’s overall values, to asking for their ideas for development initiatives, and finally gathering their thoughts on the programs during and after their implementation.

This is a critical piece of the puzzle; giving your current employees a platform to be heard lets them feel as though they’re contributing and makes them more comfortable with whatever the end result is. In addition, it’s likely that good ideas will come out of their feedback, as they’re the ones actually doing the jobs and being affected by whatever the change may be. Incorporating their suggestions can help lead to a more effective overall development plan and, in the end, a better culture.

These four steps, while generic, can be applied to almost any situation in which an organizational change needs to take place. Especially when considering cultural shifts within the company, sticking to this outline and building upon it will help ensure that any initiative related to development is given the best chance to succeed.

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Greg Kedenburg Greg Kedenburg is an I/O Psychologist who previously worked for PSI. He is living and working in Chicago, IL.