Culture Corner: 5 Tips For Leading Culture Change

Posted Wednesday, January 18th, 2017 by Debbie Lamb, Sterling Talent Solutions

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Over the past two years, we’ve acquired four companies. As a result, our company has more than doubled in size and with this kind of growth comes positive change. We’ve added hundreds of new colleagues, ramped up our technology stack and have rethought our internal processes to ensure customers are getting the best service possible. And while bringing multiple companies together is no easy task, we’ve continued to increase revenue, invest in our technology and create a thriving, sustainable organization from our robust organic and acquisitive strategy.

After the merger between Sterling and TalentWise in early 2016, we made culture integration and transformation a mission-critical endeavor to ensure that who we are and how we work aligns with our strategic objectives and corporate values. From reducing organizational silos to making innovation the cornerstone of our business, we aspire to build a culture that fulfills around our vision: to empower smart people decisions fueled by innovation and dynamic technology. And like an increasing number of CMOs, I’ve been tasked with leading this transformation initiative.

Early last year, we gathered a small team of volunteers willing to give up a portion of their time for the culture transformation initiative. As the project grew so did the volunteer team. We now have nearly 60 global cultural change agents excited to survey, analyze, strategize and implement an evolving list of big and small culture projects designed to impact how our 3,900+ employees work, interact and communicate every day. Twelve months into our transformation, I’d like to share a few early insights that might help you as you navigate your own culture journey, whether in your department or company-wide.

Here are five tips to help you on your path to cultural transformation:

  1. Don’t Go It Alone – Find Some Executive Allies: Like any major initiative, you need buy-in from the top in order to succeed. Change is hard and when someone has been following a set of rules for years, the desire to change is probably low. Support for change is important at all levels but gaining executive support demands facts. To build a business case for culture change, we benchmarked our employee attrition rate and then conducted an in-depth culture diagnostic study. Bottom line: Come in with facts and continue to prove out your models as noticeable change begins to take shape. The more you can support your case with numbers, particularly ROI, the better.
  2. Find Cheerleaders to Get a Buzz Started: In every company, there are both formal and informal leaders, those people to whom others naturally gravitate. They’re positive, happy, social animals who always seem to draw an audience in the lunchroom or offer a shoulder to lean on. Getting buy-in from these informal leaders can be a powerful part of your transformation program because they will spread the word that positive change is happening – speeding up the impact you’re looking for. We identified 20 people across the company to form an informal culture ambassador group. The key is to be as transparent as possible about your motives and what you’re asking them to do.
  3. Cast a Wide Net For New Ideas: As we’ve launched our project, we’ve received hundreds of ideas on how to “fix our culture.” I personally don’t believe there’s a magic bullet for fixing culture, that any single action or idea can put everything in order. Culture is a set of implicit and explicit rules that touch many areas, and everyone perceives and values culture differently. For some, recognition and performance management rank high. For others, working in a positive social environment is key so company events and employee perks rank even higher. Our approach was to put out a call for ideas, sort the results into our five change areas and then rank them by impact, execution difficulty and cost. Then get to work.
  4. Change Takes Time So Be Patient: Transforming a culture takes time. We have 3,900+ employees performing a wide range of functions across 20 offices in nine countries. Every office and person adapts differently based on their unique stage in the process. We have been very clear (over and over again) with both employees and executives that we won’t see real, meaningful changes in our culture for at least a year, maybe longer. Is it going to take 12 months or two years? Who can say? Every company is different and it all depends on the changes you’re trying to effect, the level of buy-in you secure and the rigor you apply to implementing the change. Research shows that most companies fail when trying to make meaningful changes to their culture – don’t give up and don’t step back from the changes you want to see.
  5. Spot Change When It Happens By Measuring Everything: While I just said that change takes time, you may still see early glimmers of change popping up. So from the beginning, establish your success metrics. Are you trying to improve the happiness of your employees or are you trying to reduce organizational silos? Either way, how are you going to measure this and what data do you need to benchmark improvements from the beginning? As data continues to come to you (in the form of surveys, interviews, e-mails, coffee-talk conversations, job boards, etc.) assign someone the task of compiling everything for your team to collectively review. Make sure to take everyone’s concerns seriously and look for solutions.

Throughout the course of this year, I will be sharing monthly cultural updates on insights from our ongoing cultural transformation project. You can expect key insights we’ve learned to help you on your path towards manifesting your perfect culture. In the meantime, you can check out our latest white paper, Your Complete Guide to Onboarding From Decision to Day One, for some tips and tricks to give your employees a positive experience from day one.

Complete Guide to Onboarding From Decision to Day One

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