Changing the culture of an organization or the norms of a team is not easy. Any organization’s culture not only resist change, but seduce those who would change the culture into behaving in accord with the current one. Here are seven focal areas of organization and group life that will make a difference.

They are…

Focus AreaChange Strategy
    1. Goals and Values of the Desired CultureCulture change efforts are most effective when rooted in a set of values that define the organization’s important behavioral priorities. Such priorities are best developed and clarified through small and large group dialogues that clarify and refine such values. Discussions should also include how to maintain those values in situations where being expedient would be tempting. Decision-making discussions must include such value-oriented points.  
    2. Leadership BehaviorLeaders must consistently talk the talk and walk the talk. People follow their leaders, for better or for worse. To clarify, people do what their leaders do much more than what they say.  
  3. Feedback FrequencyOrganizations, their units, and their individual people will attend to the priorities that are getting the most attention. Metrics about production rates and sales generate lots of conversation while metrics about desired culture behaviors are limited to annual culture surveys. Establishing feedback regarding the desired values behaviors must be at least as frequent as other priorities.  
    4. Rewards, Support, & DisciplineMost formal reward mechanics (positive performance appraisal, salary increases, bonuses, and promotions) are infrequent. Therefore, establish some version of a weekly “culture review” meeting to officially recognize and reward those who have embodied the new values and behaviors. Such meeting can decrease in frequency as the desired behaviors become more and more consistent. Of course, the usual formal rewards must also reinforce the values and behaviors of the new culture.  

Most important, use informal private and public acknowledgement of behaviors consistent with the new values often to emphasize their importance.  

Correct behavior inconsistent with the new values with support. If the behavior continues progressive discipline may be necessary.  
    5. Performance Management Policies & Procedures  Performance management policies and procedures must support and reinforce the values and behaviors desired in the new culture. They must align performance standards of the organization, its units, and each position with the new values. In addition, they must also support the day-in and day-out use of feedback needed for units and employees to excel.  
      6. Training and Development  The new values may require new skills. Train members of organizational units together so they can support and reinforce each other. Change happens best through small groups of people who work together. Such training must move from the top down as people tend to do what their leaders are doing as mentioned.   
    7. Support MechanismsSome organizational units may struggle to let go of behaviors undesirable in new culture. Without letting go, taking up the new behaviors is often problematic. A wake-type of activity or other facilitated support is useful to uncover and resolve such issues.  

Culture change (like changing personal habits) may not take much to initiate. Many wannabe non-smokers successfully stop many times . . . before reverting to their former behavior. Sustaining the new behavior is the challenge. The sustainability of a new organizational culture depends on the new values and behaviors being consistently reinforced over several months. Success in the areas of Leadership Behavior, Feedback Frequency, Rewards, Support, Discipline, and Performance Management are the keys to such reinforcement.

Of course, support for the changes represented by our seven areas must be built to critical mass. How to do that is a topic for a later article.

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