Visiting the Islands: An Incremental Approach to Culture Change

In our work as Executive Advisors, we’re frequently asked to help implement culture change within an organization. The first thing to understand is that culture change is desirable only if it supports the greater goals and strategy of the business. In other words, if a consultant comes in and flatly says that you need to change your culture, you probably need to change consultants instead.

Step One in any undertaking that revolves around company culture is to understand why the current culture exists as it does. A good advisor will view that culture through the lens of the company’s business goals, and then identify the gaps and the things that need to change so that culture is aligned with those goals.

And this is where things often go wrong, as companies try to correct course in one swift motion, which can leave a trail of disgruntled employees (and by extension, unhappy customers).  Especially with a tight labor market and an increasingly millennial workforce, the one-step “my way or the highway” approach just won’t work, because “the highway” becomes the more attractive option.

Done properly, culture change is an incremental process. It begins with buy-in on the “why” behind the changes and goes not directly from Point A to Point B, but also to Points C, D, E and F. Think of it as the difference between steaming directly across the ocean to the opposite coast versus stopping to enjoy several islands along the way.

In the course of the journey, weaknesses are turned into strengths at each stop, and one eye is always on the horizon … the overall goals that the culture change is intended to support.

Not getting this right can have dire results for a business, yet what we hear over and over again is this: “We’re too busy to talk about culture change right now.” This is akin to saying, “I don’t have time to call the fire department; the building’s burning!”

If you’re seeing red flags like disengaged employees or other indicators that your culture and your goals are not aligned, let’s talk about visiting those islands.