Redesigning your business culture

The purpose of your organisation culture should be to support the delivery of the strategic objectives. It should be consciously changed whenever the strategic objectives change. But how often over the last few years have you rewritten your strategic objectives and failed consciously to redesign your culture?

Look at the strategy of your organisation – is there consistency between where you are going and what people believe and say, or is there a mismatch? Are you trumpeting innovation, while people complain that they get into trouble if they make a mistake? Are you talking about growth, while sending messages about limiting expenditure and cutting costs?

How do you start to change a culture?

The first step is to identify the key elements of the ‘Old Era’; and it’s vital to get some outside help to do this. Because you are part of it, and it’s all around you it’s very difficult to see the culture and truly hear what’s being said. It’s rather like asking a goldfish to change his own water – he doesn’t even know it’s there until it becomes a problem for him! Some ways of ‘listening in’ to the existing culture are:

  • Listen to the coffee-machine chat – what do people gossip about?
  • What do people complain about, especially repeated complaints?
  • What do new recruits say, about why they wanted to work for your organisation, and a few weeks on, about what they see are its ‘blocks’ and flaws?
  • How do outsiders perceive your organisation?

Draw up two lists headed ‘New Era’ and ‘Old Era’, and start to distinguish those attitudes, habits, beliefs and rules which support your strategy and direction, from those which work against it. Visit other organisations and ask questions to find out what’s possible outside your own particular ‘goldfish bowl’. Use this outside experience to identify any gaps in your own organisation’s ‘New Era’ list, and start to identify the behaviours and attitudes you consider essential to supporting your organisation in achieving its strategic objectives.

Include others in your organisation right from the beginning, and include as many as practically possible throughout the process: by definition, culture is about people – what they think, believe and do. Run off-site events and open forums for people to identify and expose dysfunctional attitudes and beliefs, capture the great ones, and collaborate in creating the ‘New Era’. Remember to engage outside help throughout the process of embedding ‘New Era’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviours in everything you do – it’s really hard to facilitate a change of water from inside the goldfish bowl!

  • What characterises your organisation’s ‘old era’?
  • What would you like to see in the ‘new era’?
  • How are you planning to make sure the ‘new era’ becomes ‘just the way we do things round here’?

Need an outsider to evaluate your culture?

Give your organisation a health check as a first step