In HR, we talk about workplace transformation pretty regularly. But what does it actually mean? In this mini-series, we’ll give you some tips and tricks to help you understand each type of transformation—and how you can foster it across your organization.
Social media has given employees a voice to take their companies to task over flawed corporate culture. The #MeToo Movement, for example, began on Twitter in 2017 and empowereed women to share their experiences with sexual harassment and violence in an open forum. It quickly went viral, starting a conversation that would spark positive (and necessary) changes within several organizations, from The Weinstein Company to DC Comics—and many more.
But you don’t need to wait for a crisis—or a big social media movement—to transform your company culture. Cultural transformation, the act of reframing what your organization values and the type of behavior it tolerates, can make or break an employee’s experience. Done right, cultural transformation can create an office environment where employees feel excited to go to work every day instead of dreading it. And when you foster a culture that respects workers and gives them a sense of belonging, they will feel more invested in the company. The data agrees: Employees who feel valued at their jobs are 50% more productive than those who don’t.
Why You Need Cultural Transformation
The case for cultural transformation may seem obvious—improving your company’s culture will help you attract and retain employees who are enthusiastic and engaged. And while it’s important for workers to be happy, a positive company culture can also improve your business. In 1992, Harvard Business School professors James Heskett and John Kotter published a study called Corporate Culture and Performance, which made those benefits clear.
Heskett and Kotter found that successful companies have two characteristics in common: They highly value their people and customers, and they encourage leadership from everyone at their organizations. What’s more, these firms experienced a 975% increase in equity compared to other organizations. They also grew more, retained more employees and showed significant increases in their revenue, stock prices and average incomes.
But for most organizations, a successful cultural transformation costs money—and HR often must get buy-in from internal stakeholders, like the CFO and other members of the C-suite who allocate budget toward transformation initiatives. And it can be difficult to convince these executives to put money toward a program that doesn’t directly impact revenue. Sure, a cultural transformation drives employee engagement and improves retention, but it won’t directly make the company more money—at least not right away.
That’s why you need to position your ask strategically. Think about how a cultural transformation can help you achieve corporate objectives. From a business perspective, positioning a cultural transformation as a program that will align with the organization’s larger initiatives is probably a more enticing selling point than just telling leadership that it will improve employee morale. For example, you might communicate how positive changes in company culture will boost productivity, lead to more revenue or tie into existing organizational initiatives, like improving customer service.
How Do You Change a Culture?
It’s tempting to put up signs around your office that preach positivity and accountability, and call it a day. But to effectively change your company culture, you’ll need more than just a mission statement or writing on a wall. Instead, successful cultural transformation has to start at the top. Show your executives and managers how they can lead by example and you will start to see those behaviors trickle down.
To start fostering a successful cultural transformation, follow these steps:
1. Organize Your Top Team
A top team is a group of people who have been designated to help enact change within your organization. The best top teams are made up of employees from each part of the company. Together, they will help drive the vision of your cultural transformation by representing other employees and acting as their voice throughout the transformation process. Some of the most successful and high profile companies have benefited from a top team. Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, credits he company’s success to his top teams and the culture of "collegiality, mutual trust and respect for performance" they brought to GE.
2. Measure Your Progress
Create a system that allows you to quantify how the cultural changes you’ve implemented are progressing. Short surveys and other forms of easily gathered feedback are effective for engaging employee reactions. Other concrete forms of measurement might include differences in output or revenue since the start of the program. Review all of the metrics at your disposal to find which cultural changes work best for your organization.
3. Create a Culture Plan
Map out the goals you want to achieve. Focus on a limited number of areas that need improvement, making sure each goal is clear, measurable and actionable. Seek feedback from your teams and polish your plan before you roll it out to the entire company.
4. Engage Employees
The most effective company cultures give even the most junior employees the sense that their feedback matters. Create channels that allow employees to voice their opinions through every step of the transformation process, and communicate their feedback to your team and company leadership. The more open the channels of communication are, the better. Give workers choices and opportunities to discuss ideas with change-makers, either as a large group, a round-table or during a one-on-one. Whatever method you choose, be transparent with employees. Make it clear that decisions are not being made behind closed doors and that leaders are available to listen to concerns from anyone in the company, whether they’re an intern or a senior manager.
Cultural transformation doesn’t come from just wishful thinking. Truly changing your company’s culture for the better will take time, organization and lots of planning. Be on the lookout for how you can better serve your employees. Once your company leadership takes these various needs into account, you’ll be on your way to transforming your workplace into an environment where workers can thrive.
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