Changing organizational culture may be one of the toughest challenges you face as a leader. If
you’re a new department head or new at running the company and you’re bringing in some new ideas, be prepared to run head on into the existing culture. The advisors at PcW’s Strategy& Katzenbach Center recommend understanding the concept of corporate culture before you start trying to change it. Even then, you should tread carefully or you risk blowing yourself up.
As a new leader, you may be charged with changing the culture in order to make a sales department or the company feel more dynamic, energized or progressive. At the same time, you’ll be faced with the old-guard employees who have worked together for years and who are used to doing things their own way. Not everyone is going to be delighted by the idea of change but you can make a difference if you go about it in the right way.
Some change agents walk through the door with a mindset. They know what has worked for them previously and they intend to follow the same pattern in their new assignment. Big mistake. It’s far less disruptive to study the current culture first. Check out the key behaviors of your employees. Determine exactly what you want to change and whether your goals can be achieved based on existing behaviors. For example, the sales department may be all about valuing who has been with the company the longest instead of who is actually trying to bring in new customers.
To shift the culture, you might want to promote a newer go-getter who is clearly demonstrating, not just to you, but to all employees, her commitment to bringing in more sales. If possible, promote an employee who was in place before your arrival. This type of promotion signals your desire for a change in behavior and doesn’t mark the employee as a ‘plant’ by you.
Authentic Informal Leaders
Few cultural changes go well without the buy-in from the informal leaders. In any organization, these are the folks that other employees naturally gravitate around. Katzenbach Center analysts point out that these leaders are often overlooked when changes are being made. Informal leaders are typically open to change of any kind, especially if they see that new systems or product lines can improve the company overall. These folks are also role models. They have good relationships with a number of employees across multiple departments. They’re generally optimists and people oriented.
The informal leaders in your department may not be in an official leadership role but you should work hard to bring them on board with any change you want to make. These are the folks who will have conversations in the break room, on the shop floor or at another employee’s workstation. Their support will increase the chances of success for the changes you want to make.
Check out the rest of the advice offered by the Katzenbach Center analysts before you set out to shake things up. Keep in mind that organizational change take time and will require your constant monitoring and follow-up. Otherwise, your team members will just pay lip service to the new goals.