Susy Roberts provides guidance on delivering successful change in organisational culture.
Some organisations are notoriously bad for their culture of customer service and employee engagement; others excel in both areas. Is this a deliberate strategy to train staff to behave in a particular way (naming no low-cost airlines) or simply bad management?
And, if leaders recognise that training is necessary for change, where to start? Should there be a one-size-fits-all culture strategy from senior leaders to frontline staff , or do we need to separate levels, teams and specialities and develop specific strategies for each?
When it comes to organisations, the word ‘culture’ goes against the usual intended meaning in that it is not a naturally-developed set of ideas, customs and social behaviour shared by a group of people. The culture of an organisation must be meticulously planned, monitored and updated with a detailed strategy and a focus on the environment created by leaders and managers.
It’s essential to ensure that everyone within the organisation understands what is expected of them and is performing accordingly. It’s not enough to declare, ‘this is our ethos’ and expect every employee to adhere to it. A culture should be as strictly enforced as a sales strategy or growth plan.
There must be no ambiguity among the senior leadership team about the direction they are pursuing, and this must be reflected clearly in the strategy and planning.
If employees are expected to act in a certain way, they must be given a very clear idea not only of what to do, but why and how.
This doesn’t mean that employees need to become clones of each other, rigidly sticking to a script and suppressing their own characteristics – quite the opposite. A correctly managed culture strategy empowers each individual employee to pursue their own goals with the freedom to make decisions within agreed parameters.
For this approach to be successful, the board must clarify what its vision is for its culture and start with the end goal in mind.
A strategy and actionable plan must then be developed that will allow the organisation to reach that end goal, taking into account the processes of each department, ensuring the cultural goals are realistically deliverable and identifying what, when, where and how training will be necessary at every level.
The strategy and action plan should define not only desired actions and behaviour of employees, but also be translated specifically for each team, department or other relevant differentiator.
The board that develops the culture strategy will be clear on its focus and desired outcomes as they are the ones who create it, but for every member of the organisation to understand what is desired of them, they must be personally developed in a way that is meaningful.
One single cultural strategy document full of buzzwords or eye-catching graphics will mean nothing to frontline staff dealing with customers. Leaders, from the CEO to the team supervisor, will find it impossible to instil the desired behaviour simply by insisting employees act a certain way or robotically repeat pre-agreed phrases.
People need to be stimulated to be happy in their work and to portray the desired traits; if employees are expected to act in a certain way, they must be given a very clear idea not only of what to do, but why and how.
First and foremost, the C-suite needs to work together closely to translate the cultural strategy and define achievable actions. These actions should be pinpointed clearly in terms of what it means for all staff and the functions they carry out, and in a way they will understand and react positively to.
This then needs to be filtered down to the heads of department, who, in turn, will need to define how their teams – the middle managers and the line managers – will appreciate what’s expected of them and how they need to coach the frontline employees.
There is no room for assumptions or leaving things to chance – each stage of the filtration must include clear actions and training plans for every level, on their own level, and it must all be aligned and linked.
Every member of the organisation must have a clear cultural goal that relates to the original strategy to ensure that it comes full circle, and this should be supported by positive leadership and management that rewards constructive and progressive actions.
Questions to ask:
- Who will deliver the actions you’ve identified in order to achieve your cultural aims?
- What do they need, and what do they want to achieve their goals?
- What skills and training will they need, over and above what they already have?
- What tools will you need to deploy in order to improve your culture?
- How will you monitor, measure and react to each person’s individual performance?
- Take an inclusive approach – what you’re asking of your employees will affect them and your customers. Can they reasonably achieve it?
About the author
Susy Roberts is founder of people development consultancy Hunter Roberts.