Corporate cultures change incrementally based on how an organization adapts when faced with challenges, successes, and failures. The response to these situations demonstrates to employees what the organization values, and can ultimately lead to a shift in the assumptions about what is important: creating a change in the corporate culture.
These types of cultural shifts should not be confused with emphatic declarations about the “need for a culture change” made by executives. When these leaders are asked for more information about the need for a culture change, their response might sound like, “We need to be more innovative!” Or, “We need to get better at implementation and execution.”
In reality, these types of changes aren’t about the culture; they’re about specific climates within a culture. Climates are the behaviors that reflect what is expected, recognized, and rewarded in an organization. In these situations, rather than seeking to change a culture, the focus should be on changing the behaviors that are creating a specific climate.
Addressing culture change and behavioral change are both important for an organization; however, before embarking on a change effort, leaders must determine which type of change is necessary. The question must be asked why there’s a need for a change, and then leaders must reach an understanding about whether a behavior change or a culture change is needed.
As a company grows, tradeoffs are made, and cultural changes occur as a result. Tradeoffs are often related to business practices, and sometimes may be related to changes in fundamental human values. It’s through their actions, decisions, and the tradeoffs made that leaders embed their values in a company’s culture. The leader’s behavior and decisions in times of crisis, in allocating resources, and in directing his or her attention inform employees about what really matters.
When culture change happens, a critical concern for many organizations is to preserve what is valued about the existing corporate culture. Even when there is reason to change a culture, it’s important to identify what should be preserved.
At the right time and for the right reasons there can be great value in cultural change, as the authors explain in the Harvard Business Review article, The Reinvention Roller Coaster: Risking the Present for a Powerful Future:
“If a company authentically reinvents itself, if it alters its context, it not only has the means to alter its culture and achieve unprecedented results…it also will have the ability to sustain these improvements regardless of any changes in the business environment.”
If you find yourself wondering about the changes in your corporate culture, begin by asking yourself these questions:
• How do leaders reinforce our corporate culture?
• What cultural shifts have taken place in our organization?
• How, and what, should we preserve in our corporate culture?
Then, download our complimentary white paper, How to Make Culture Your Competitive Advantage. In it you’ll find more information, as well as practical tips and suggestions about:
• Why corporate cultures change,
• How leaders impact cultural change, and
• What you can do to preserve a corporate culture
Those who seek to create (or address) cultural change in an organization are embarking on what may sometimes feel like an arduous journey. Each step may not be enjoyable and it may be more demanding than ever anticipated, but the clarity and vision an organization obtains – as well as the results that can now be achieved – make the effort worthwhile.