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How to make a lasting change to your employee culture

Employee jumping off a springboard.

There are many reasons that a business may feel it has to make changes to its employee culture. After all, as we have previously explored, the influence that culture has over the success or failure of a business should not be underestimated and it is therefore incredibly productive to occasionally take a step back, review your own organisational culture, and reflect on whether it is working for you.

In the past, taking the time to appraise your company culture may have been seen as the domain of the forward-thinking – or ‘woke’ in today’s lexicon - businesses; a nice but not entirely critical activity, just something of an indulgence for those that have the time and inclination. But in today’s climate, one of activism and people power (think of the #MeToo or Extinction Rebellion movements) businesses are finding that turning their attention to their employee culture is far more important than ever before.

We are living through a period of significant change. Practices and behaviours that were once just accepted and tolerated are now being outed and exposed as unacceptable and intolerable. And it is critical that your business and its employee culture are in tune with the times. We have already seen some high-profile victims, with companies that have failed to address systemic problems within their culture paying the (share) price - such as Ted Baker, which recently issued a profit warning following the very public airing of concerning issues in this regard.

If you believe the time is right to make some changes in your own business culture, here are some key pointers to help guide you.

Why does your company culture need to change?
This is a very important question, and it is essential that you are clear on the answer before attempting to engage in efforts to shift the culture of your organisation. Ask yourself, what is the business case for cultural change? Then let this shape and define the specific changes that need to be made. For example, perhaps you feel that your company culture is lacking in dynamism and energy. Obviously this is a fair concern, but drilling down into the detail of why it is an issue for your business will clarify the specific measures that you can take to address it. Does this lack of energy make recruiting and retaining staff more difficult? Then change the culture by introducing reward and recognition programmes, which will work to boost staff motivation and loyalty to the company. Is lack of dynamism an issue because you are falling behind competitors with your use of technology? Then don’t just invest in the latest gadget for the sake of it, but ensure it is the right tech solution to improve productivity. And of course, don’t forget that people will need proper training to make sure they are getting the most out of it. A tech product might be the current ‘cool’ must-have and its availability to staff may look good from the outside, but it might not be the right thing for your specific business needs. Which brings us on to the next pointer...

Appearances aren’t everything
If your predominant reason for looking to reshape your organisational culture is because of concerns about your reputation – i.e. you have identified practices within your business that if made public would damage, perhaps irreparably, the brand – then it’s important not to lose sight of the real issue. If you want to make a lasting and meaningful change, you will have to go beyond just addressing the visibility of these behaviours. ‘Battening down the hatches’ and making your company culture appear better but actually just letting the behaviours continue is a very risky – indeed, possibly unethical – strategy. It could creative an environment of secrecy and distrust, and this is not going to lead to a healthy, productive workforce.

Your culture is about more than just how the business looks – a good culture can actually work for you and help you achieve all of your business aims. This may require more effort, but it will pay dividends in the long-run.

Watch out for unintended consequences…
Once you know why you need to change your employee culture, it is important to consider who the changes will benefit – and, therefore, who they may not. Changes designed to serve an important business need may also have unintended consequences if not thoroughly thought-through. For example, imagine you have identified that your culture must change because the business is becoming less profitable and you think that employees need to be more productive. One way to achieve this is to impose a longer-hours culture, ensuring that you get more value from staff. But if part of your valued workforce is made up of working parents and these longer hours make childcare more difficult, these staff members may begin to feel stressed and become increasingly demotivated and disillusioned with the business. Instead, consider whether you can implement more flexible working arrangements that allow people to fit more work in without having to struggle with balancing their other commitments.

It is essential that you consider how any changes will be received, otherwise you risk inadvertently creating dissent amongst the team, which would be decidedly counter-productive.

Is everyone engaged in the process?
To successfully make lasting changes to employee culture, you need buy-in – and not just from the organisation’s leadership team (although this of course is important). As outlined above, there may be some changes that don’t immediately suit everyone and whilst you can mitigate this risk by being mindful of it, it is also helpful to engage everyone in the process from the outset. Think about who is leading the change. Is it coming from the top down (management-led) or from the bottom-up (employee-led)? Who has identified the need for change and is pushing for it? We can assume that the instigator group is already invested, and so more energy should be put into ensuring the rest of the firm have some input into what is going to happen.

Ultimately, if people feel that they have had some involvement in the change process, it will go a long way to helping them accept the changes when they do come.

Employee recognition can help create a healthy company culture. Download our free e-book to find out more about how to build an effective recognition strategy.

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