Your company culture – can you summarise it into 3 words? 1 word? It’s a fascinating exercise, and one that I think that leaders in business don’t do often enough.
Culture is important. More than important, it is crucial. Critical. Every business, leadership team and manager knows this, in theory. But it is a much more complex and arduous task to identify, shape and change culture in an organisation. Where do you start? How can you know if there are systemic, underlying issues that need to change? And if you do know, how can you bring about effective change?

Here are 6 steps to provide leaders with a simple roadmap to creating effective culture change in their organisations.

Step 1: Prepare
One of the most important things to remember when creating large-scale change – not just culture-specific, any kind of change – is that it is a marathon, not a sprint. Culture change does not happen overnight. You could be dealing with engrained norms and behaviours that have been left unchecked and unchallenged for years.

It seems obvious, but it’s important to start with good preparation. Firstly, you need to have a vision for where you want your culture to be. What do you want it to look like in 5 years? 10 years? Do you want to be an employer of choice? Do you want to foster a culture of innovation? Do you want to cultivate an environment where every person strives to better themselves and the company? If so, what exactly does that look like for your organisation? And while you are thinking 10 years ahead, what threats are hovering on the horizon. How do you want your culture to be shaped so that your organisation can tackle whatever the world or your competitors throw at you?

This cannot be only your vision. Before testing, trying, or implementing anything, you must ensure you have team alignment. To execute your vision, every member of your team needs to be enacting change as an aligned and united whole. They need to buy in and be inspired by the vision. So, when you are in the preparation stage and forming this vision – be exciting! Be ambitious, push boundaries, and inspire your team to champion this change.

Step 2: Assess
Once your team is aligned and ready to make change, you need to take stock of where and what your culture is right now. Most business leaders and managers are familiar with a gap analysis – they are commonly used across many areas of an organisation to create positive change. Culture is no exception! You need to apply this approach and methodology to culture change as well. Your organisation may already have existing templates and procedures to get your gap analysis started. If you don’t, here are a few simple tips.

A culture is not made by just one person, nor is it experienced by just one. How can you capture the employee experience? Every staff member’s opinion is important, so aim to make everyone heard. Your organisation might be too large for this to be practical, but you still need to consider how to optimise the reach and engagement of your data collection. Think about how you can diversify your collection methods and frequency to give reliable, honest and current data. Surveys are a great way to check the pulse of your company culture, and they are also a useful tool for collecting more comprehensive data on the different aspects of culture. But there are many other ways to collect data that is valuable and insightful. How much time do you allow for feedback in performance reviews? Or exit interviews? How often do you have scheduled or unscheduled one-on-ones? This isn’t just a job for the HR team. Effective change leaders get their ears to the ground, so to speak – engaging with their teams, observing, listening. These methods (as well as many other more creative ones) are largely untapped resources for collecting valuable insights into the culture of your organisation.

Step 3: Identify Patterns
Data is most useful when you can identify clear patterns. Siobhan McHale goes one step further by saying “Nothing will change until you see the big pattern” in her book on culture change. One way you can do this is by comparing with previous data that you have collected. This is why culture change is a marathon! It may take months or even years of collecting data to unearth hidden patterns and behaviours that have formed in your organisation. Another thing to consider is the way you present or display the data. Mix it up! Put together a word map or a bubble chart. Sometimes this can give you a unique perspective or a fresh way of seeing trends.

Step 4: Evaluate
Okay, press pause. Take a step back. What picture do you get? You may find that you are slowly building a picture of your Employee Value Proposition, or EVP. You will discover what it is that your company culture has, that is unique to you. Interestingly, you may find that you are also building a picture of your anti-EVP in parallel. Where in your company are your employees missing value, or losing value?

This is a chance to identify the gaps and inconsistencies within your culture. You have already identified patterns (both good and bad) in the previous step. Are these patterns consistent with your culture vision? Are they consistent with the mission, vision and values of the company? Asking these questions help to identify the key gaps that your change initiative needs to target

A great data source for identifying these inconsistencies are exit interviews, and they are often underutilised by organisations. Are you making the most of your exit interviews, seeking out red flags, blind spots, and inconsistencies? Seeking criticism from current or departing employees is tough, and it’s not easy putting our pride on the line (both individual and corporate). However, identifying gaps, and making this a priority, is crucial to understanding where your employee experience is lacking or deficient, and the best way to shape your change initiatives to be effective.

Step 5: Set Your Goals
Set your eyes on your vision again – 5 or 10 years into the future. You have all the data you need – now you must translate that data into goals which align with and support your vision. To create effective change, the goals that you set should be SMART goals. That is, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Goals are important signposts for your change initiative. They help keep your strategies focused on achieving your culture vision. When they are measurable and relevant, they are excellent indicators of the health of your initiative. Metrics will help to keep tabs on progress, direction and engagement with your culture. The importance of spending intentional and careful planning in this step cannot be understated.

Step 6: Execute
With all the data collected and analysed, goals set and strategies in place, it is time to execute. There are no “one size fits all” strategies or initiatives that I can give you, but here are a few tips for successful execution.

Successful culture change requires momentum. When you are executing a change initiative, you are bound to face roadblocks, and roadblocks are momentum killers. People could have various reasons for opposing change, and their reasons are probably valid. Simply telling them that your way is the best way is unlikely to be helpful. They key to navigating these roadblocks is to identify and understand the underlying assumptions behind their hesitancy. If you identify these assumptions, you can demonstrate how your initiatives will address these concerns, and together you can make positive change to achieve both your goals.

You may not see results straight away – successful change requires patience. Patience is a virtue that not everyone has, and key people in your organisation may lose their drive if they don’t see significant impact in the short-term. This is another threat to momentum. I have two recommendations for remedying this. Firstly, have clearly defined and assigned roles. Keeping people accountable for their responsibilities will help stop them from losing sight of the bigger picture. Secondly, you need to consolidate and communicate your small wins. It’s easy to become discouraged by a lack of visible progress, especially if you hit snags along the way. But celebrate the small wins! Communicating these can help to reinspire your team, and their motivation (or demotivation) will be contagious.

There you have it, 6 steps to creating effective culture change. This isn’t a comprehensive solution to every organisational culture problem, or an expert analysis on change strategy. However, we hope that this simple roadmap can empower business leaders to take that first step (or six) to successfully transforming their culture.