A Tale of Two Culture Change Interventions

Companies look to change and evolve their cultures for several reasons.  Strategy upshift, generational factors, unattended culture degradation, mergers & acquisitions, and turnaround scenarios. Below are two culture change stories we all see.

Scenario 1:  Company ABC

Company ABC upshifts strategy to respond to and succeed in an evolving market.  Leaders presciently realize that internal changes will be necessary, so they set new goals, update core values, and roll out messaging about the new initiative.  There is bubbling excitement as people imagine a more successful future with more revenue, more growth and general happiness.  This last about a month.

Within 2-3 months after the new goals and values are communicated, things get busy again, heads down, with only the most vocal change agents keeping the new narrative going.  But it’s fading into the background.

Because people practices like performance feedback, incentives, and recognition haven’t changed much, work behaviors and habits revert to status quo.  Exceptions get lost in the buzz of work habits until, about 6 months, all the big changes are half-forgotten history that becomes fuel for cynicism when strategy implementation falters due to lack of focus.  Maybe they just aimed too high.  Maybe it was the fault of that unexpected external factor.  All in all, a bummer.

Scenario 2: Company XYZ

Company XYZ upshifts strategy to respond to and succeed in an evolving market.  The initial strategy and updated values campaign are quickly followed up with more substantive changes to culture and operations practices.  Feedback and recognition systems prompt the development of new stories about the new culture.

Leaders are accountable for not just role modeling culture behaviors, but also fostering those behaviors on their teams.  Leadership shifts the narrative and by finding opportunities to repeat the story of how the new culture enables the new strategy and the new strategy enables the people of the business to win together.  New systems and forums are created for both employees and leaders to explore their own values and how these amplify the business’ shared values.

Some changes to roles and accountabilities are made to ensure the right people in the right seats doing the right things to deliver on the new strategy.  After some churn and building momentum for strategy execution, the business experiences some early wins.  Intermittent new successes build optimism and re-amplifies the new culture, which creates more enthusiasm and purposeful business growth.

When it’s time for you to change your business’ culture, which story will you tell?


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