Diagnosing & Changing Organizational Culture

by Chris Young

Culture is a key factor in the success of your organization—or its failure.  To get optimal performance from your employees and ensure effective work as a team, you must carefully architect your organization’s culture.  Before you can begin to implement organizational culture change, you need to understand organizational culture in general and thoroughly assess the existing culture of your company.

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What Is Organizational Culture?

Every organization has its own culture, whether the company’s leadership is conscious of it or not. Culture involves a lot more than your dress code and whether or not you play music in the office.  It includes the values, work ethic, relationships and beliefs that mold your organization and shape its' goals and your employees’ commitment to those goals.  When an organization really invests in its culture, that shared outlook impacts more than the work that gets done within the company’s four walls.  It also affects the customer experience and public perception of the organization as well.  If you have any doubt about that, just take a moment to think about what you know about Zappos. The shared sense of purpose—and even fun—inside the company spills out into the world to create nearly unprecedented customer relationships and brand image.

The First Step – Understanding YOUR Organizational Culture

Before you can undertake organizational culture change, you need a solid understanding of your current culture.  Many executives have never given much thought to culture, and others think they have a handle on the culture but may not really have a clear view of what is happening at every level and in every department. If you are like most top-level managers, you may not even understand the elements of organizational culture or how to identify them.  And, of course, you may simply be too closely involved to make a clear and accurate assessment on your own. Fortunately, you do not have to. 

Get the Help You Need

Peter Drucker said, "What get's measured, get's managed."  Using an established interpretive process like a Cultural Values Assessment will provide you with information about your current organizational values as they are actually playing out on the floor and in the field, the strengths of your operation and the areas in which your company culture is having a negative impact.  This type of assessment will help you identify the discrepancies between your desired cultural values and the current values within your organization.  Understanding your current culture and how it aligns or fails to align with your goals is a critical step toward implementing organizational culture change.  A good assessment will also provide recommendations on how to minimize or eliminate the negative values currently in play and to replace them with desired values.

Implementing Organizational Culture Change

Once you know where the gaps are, you can start working toward creating the culture that reflects your goals for the company.  This will require an investment of both time and effort. Significant change will not happen overnight or because you institute a new policy.  Here are some steps toward shaping a new culture for your organization:

  • Talk to participants: you must understand the perceptions, goals and experiences of the people who make up your organization before you can determine the best way to provide them with the tools and guidance to affect positive change.
  • Take a hard look at the negatives: It may be tempting to jump straight to the values you want to introduce or increase in importance, but most organizations have values that are holding their teams back.  These may be values that evolved inadvertently, or they may be the result of policies you implemented without realizing the impact they might have.  Recognize these obstacles and do what you can to remove them.
  • Lead by example: To some degree, every person at every level of the organization takes his or her cues from top management.  The values you convey in your actions will help shape the perception of company values and, in turn, the values of your most dedicated employees.

Of course, this is only an overview.  To truly impact organizational culture, you must dig deep, and that means getting the help you need to determine exactly where your organization excels and where it is falling short.

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