February 11, 2016
Talent Talk is a regular column on employment trends written by Glen Esnard, the executive vice president and principal of 20-20 Foresight Executive Search. This is his fourth article in a four-part series on culture.
I was part of an organization that experienced instant cultural change.
The firm had a “frat boy” culture. Actually, “Animal House” might be more appropriate. Enough so the firm lost a workplace suit that cost it significant money.
The firm’s general counsel shared with me his plan to change culture. “First, develop a training program that clearly articulates both acceptable and unacceptable behavior as well as a “zero tolerance” environment. Second, send every employee through the training program. Finally, terminate a very visible employee for violating the policies.”
Unfortunately, the employee terminated a month after the training was a very senior, very impactful and much respected division leader, but Animal House disappeared.
In that case, the demand for change was very tangible, had deep financial and legal consequences and demanded immediate action. Draconian solutions were appropriate.
Most cultural change environments are less clear. There is likely no immediate survival threat. In fact most in the organization may be very comfortable in the current environment. As well, it is likely the deep impact a new culture may have on organizational performance is not fully understood, dramatically enhancing push-back and risk of success.
Referring again to the McKinsey 7S Model, we know “shared values” or culture touches and impacts everything else in the organization, occupying the center of the model. Reciprocally, everything else impacts culture…it goes both ways. Consequently, creating cultural change requires an assessment of the other organizational elements that must change in order to support and reinforce the cultural change as well as benefit from it.
In other words, if you want to change the culture, everything that influences that culture must change to fit and reinforce the new behaviors. Using our example from a prior article, if you want to build a knowledge sharing culture your recognition and compensation programs must recognize the desired behaviors not simply, say, individual revenue generation. Systems must reinforce and measure knowledge sharing and contribution. Leaders must be prepared to cut loose, after appropriate change procedures have been enacted and time has passed, those who fail to “opt in” to the change.
Simply stated, if you want to change anything you better take culture into account, and if you want to change culture you better take everything else into account.