Three Keys to Culture Transformation

Diana Rivenburgh

by Diana Rivenburgh

[Guest Blog Post]

What causes cultures to run amok? Why do people do things they never thought they would? Perhaps the most important question is “what can we do to create ethical, high-performance, engaged cultures?”

Simply scan the daily headlines to find evidence of dysfunctional cultures:

“Pfizer caught running global bribery network,”

“JP Morgan Chase Will Pay $13 Billion in Record Settlement,”

“Cheating Probe Roils Philadelphia Schools.”

What causes cultures to run amok? Why do people do things they never thought they would? Perhaps the most important question is “what can we do to create ethical, high-performance, engaged cultures?”

Toxic Cultures

While there’s no lack of examples of toxic cultures, there are many organizations where people love their work, go above and beyond, strive for innovation and collaborate for greater results. Culture does more than create a great place to work.

Research over several decades from Denison Consulting and others clearly shows the correlation between culture and every financial and productivity measure you can think of.

Three keys for culture transformation

Whether you seek to create the culture for your new firm or change an existing one, focus your efforts on three keys for culture transformation – lead, engage and align.

Lead: Toxic leaders create toxic cultures. Vibrant leaders create vibrant cultures. Culture begins to form from the very beginning based on the founder’s vision, values and style, and continues to evolve as new leaders join.

Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz held faithfully to the company’s values even when, in 2008, the company’s stock price dropped 52% and its fourth quarter earnings were down 97%. Shultz firmly believes that making money and raising stock prices are shallow goals unless they are linked to creating value for society and people. This commitment paid off as the company’s stock percolated up to record earnings.

Engage: Engaged employees bring their best to work every day, go above and beyond, invest extra time and effort, and find ways to continuously improve and innovate. Organizations with highly engaged workforces identify individual strengths, place people in roles that fit these strengths, develop strong leaders and managers and create the right work environment for success.

Novo Nordisk, the world’s leading provider of insulin, recognizes the value of culture and employee engagement to its business success. This Danish-based pharmaceutical company audits employee engagement every year and requires all its managers to have engagement plans in place. Managers work with employees to identify strengths and set them up for success by placing them in roles where they can tap into these assets.

Align: Every organization operates with management systems comprised of processes, policies and practices for hiring, training, performance management, communication, compensation and governance. All of these as well as its organizational structure and workspace design must align to achieve the desired culture.

A client of ours was dealing with chaos and frustration after going through multiple acquisitions. Identifying and changing many of their systems, practices and structures to align to their strategy and desired culture resulted in stronger collaboration, higher engagement, improved client satisfaction and greater profitability.

Take a look at your organization to determine the ways you can lead better, engage your people, and align your management practices to achieve the high performance culture needed to realize your company’s vision and achieve its strategic goals.

The author

Diana Rivenburgh @sustainableorgs is a consultant, speaker, recovering corporate executive, and author of The New Corporate Facts of Life and is a Top 100 Thought Leader for Trustworthy Business 2014.

4 Responses to Three Keys to Culture Transformation

  1. Stephen Parry says:

    In the spirit of commenting – if only briefly – I like the idea that the giant coffee company’s financial indicators are ‘percolating’!

  2. Paul Hinks says:

    Hi Diana –

    I work in the UK IT sector where contract wins and losses can result in staff transferring between firms as part of the process – engaging with staff who have been through the (TUPE) process multiple times can be challenging …

    Where firms outsource and contract services from external suppliers the boundaries between these organisations can become blurred – employees can become ‘confused’. Who do they really work for? Where does their loyalty sit?? – the employee’s workplace experience is affected.

    Staff may feel more aligned to the customer’s culture rather than the firm that now actually employs them.

    Perhaps a charismatic leader could help engage with these folks – but I also see some interesting opportunities for technology to help better facilitate employee engagement through improved collaboration, personal networking tools, etc. – perhaps we’ll see more firms successfully leverage social technology as an internal toolset in the next few years ..?

  3. Hi Stephen,
    Glad you liked the percolating reference to Starbucks’ earnings. 🙂

  4. Hi Paul,

    A similar situation exists in healthcare when caregivers may be very engaged with their patients rather than their employers. Loyalty to customers, patients, etc. is quite important. Today’s technology provides employers with more ways to engage people through social media and programs designed to help them with their work and to stay connected with each other and with the firm. Smart leaders recognize these as valuable tools, yet realize that they must do more than provide systems.

    The combination of being and doing is what’s needed. You must also be a responsible, well-run company with strong leaders who invite feedback and suggestions from all stakeholders to continuously improve and even transform to meet the needs of the future. There are also many change management aspects to consider as staff are outsourced and work arrangements shift.

    You are spot on to suggest using technology in better ways. I often suggest reverse mentoring of leaders to have them work with younger, tech-savvy staff for ideas.

    Thanks for the comment!

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