When cultural change is the order of the day, it is not possible to deconstruct one culture and then construct a new one. What is usually the case is the old and the new culture coexist while cultural change is happening. Depending on which culture remains dominant over time, the one has the power players behind it is the culture that will prevail.
Whenever there is a change in leadership, there can be potential for changes in culture. New CEOs bring the potential for new values, new ways of being, new standards of behaviour and new results.
Cultures are described by some authors as the personality of the organization. Within the personality of any organization exists idiosyncrasies that make it unique. Like the personality of an individual, when you look hard enough you can identify strengths and weaknesses.
When cultural change is on your drawing board it is important to identify your cultural strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes cultural strengths are camouflaged because they are overused, creating an unproductive dynamic. Then there are cultural deficiencies that really are deficiencies. Leaders should master the skills they need to identify cultural strengths and use them as advantages, neutralizing unproductive dynamics whenever possible.
Why is this important?
Cultural change has become increasingly important in the modern workplace because executives are now connecting the links between culture, engagement, and performance. Culture has the power to suppress results and push organizations beyond their previously established boundaries.
To uncover your organization’s cultural strengths and weaknesses, the leadership team needs to sharpen their collective capacity to facilitate open lines of communication. Leaders should also learn to demonstrate desired behaviours. Modelling cannot be fake modelling or pretending, your coworkers can see through this. Cultural change requires a change of heart as well as a deep shift in the mental models of the leadership team.
Fake modelling can emerge when there are formal or informal leaders who operate as poisonous snakes. These persons are the best dressed, the most charming and most destructive. They exhibit a more appealing form when they perceive the need to hide their intentions.
When their dark side emerges, they take credit for other people’s ideas, they turn decision makers against their coworkers by planting seeds of doubt, and they constantly communicate in an effort to keep their fragile world of deceit in balance. These are the leaders who work long hours, and refuse to take vacation using claims of loyalty and dedication to camouflage circumvent vacation policies.
Culture is a living breathing ecosystem. It shifts or it can remain static. Aware leaders are tapped into culture and they realize cultural change is not an initiative, it is a perpetual state. Multiple factors contribute to this perpetual change, both internally and externally. Attuned leaders will pay attention to the dynamics and take steps to ensure the culture remains aligned with the intended design articulated in your organization’s vision, mission, values and core competencies.
The key to achieving positive cultural change is to engage employees at all levels to get their input into the change strategy. These employees need to be plugged into the mood of the organization, they should be respected and aware of the corporate culture.
Creating a culture, even in a small organization, requires time, patience and consistence. Sometimes leaders establish a goal to infuse the culture with vitality. At other times the goal is set to create a whole new culture. In reality many leaders encounter rigid mindsets, emotional attachments to doing business a certain way, and fear of the unknown. This means leaders of change need to be able to discern when change is real or if it is only a performance.
Fake change leaders do not always set out to sabotage your cultural change efforts. Sometimes they are overwhelmed by the change and they need to return to what is familiar because this is safe for them. Some leaders just don’t understand the change and are implementing the plan incorrectly because this is the best they can do.
Making Critical Shifts
When cultural change is your objective, it is important for leaders to become game masters. Game masters can attune to the behavioural patterns within their organizations. They know what, or who is influencing the organization, and why they are the ones with the power to influence it.
Cultural change leaders are game masters because they operate within their respective cultures and at the same time they are able to make meaningful changes. They are attuned to cultural dynamics. Game masters can conceive different future versions of culture and create a blueprint. While they operate within their cultures they push the boundaries of cultural identity, methodically deconstructing the cultural traditions while simultaneously building new norms.
In order for a culture to support sustainable business goals, trust should be a part of the equation. When trust cannot be established, this can mean removing key people, other times it involves developing them. As a cultural game master it is up to you and your team to devise the most appropriate solution for your organization.
Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner. If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at www.yvettebethel.com or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.