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How many pointless meetings have you sat in over the last month? How long does it take for new business initiatives to get signed off in your organisation? Do you often get frustrated by your inability to get stuck into ‘meaty’ work because your time is constantly consumed by low level admin tasks or fighting fires? If all this sounds familiar, fear not, you’re not alone - thousands of managers like you struggle with these predicaments daily.
If you want to change the status quo and make meaningful change within your organisation, a good place to start is tackling the prevailing company culture. Ask any group of business managers about their biggest challenges to effecting change within their organisation and chances are culture ranks highly on the list. Not that this is particularly surprising; culture is often deeply ingrained and resistant to change. Shifting it can require massive effort over prolonged periods of time.
The mistake many business leaders make is trying to introduce large scale transformation initiatives that typically take ages to implement, are overly complex and don’t have the necessary emotional and behavioural buy in from the workforce to stand any real chance of success. Instead, we suggest you adopt a number of simpler changes (or hacks) that require little effort, are quick to introduce and can trigger the emotional change necessary to alter behaviour and working practices. Here are some ideas to try out:
1. Define the change you’re looking for
What are the company values you’re looking to implement? Do they align with the company’s vision and mission statement? Can you clearly and tangibly communicate these to your workforce? Document them, put them up on your notice boards and mention them in company announcements and updates. Make sure employees can understand the changes you want to introduce as well as the rationale behind them and can translate them into actionable behaviour related to their day to day role. As importantly, ensure any existing company values you want to retain that are not up for negotiation are also made clear.
2. Embrace open communication
Employees value information and data sharing and studies have shown that this has a positive impact on their motivation levels and productivity. When information flows down from the top it helps to build trust and transparency within the organisation, it inspires the wider team and leads to an improved organisational culture. Information sharing needs to be two way though, it’s important employees have a voice and can contribute for the benefit of the wider organisation. Managers need to be closely aligned with employees and provide regular feedback on their performance. Praise and encourage work and behaviour that’s aligned with company values and commit to developing areas that require improvement.
3. Appoint champions
Identify employees that can fly the flag for the changes you want to make and ensure you have representation from all hierarchical levels of the organisation from the very top of the ladder (ideally the MD or CEO) right down to the trenches. Strong leadership drives a good working culture so if you want the workforce to adopt the changes you want to make, ensure you have leaders who lead by example and visibly demonstrate that they buy into the new way of doing things.
4. Collaborate & reward
Encourage workers to collaborate more and you’ll soon start to shift an individual's mentality from self-centric to becoming team focused. Teamwork makes for a more vibrant office as well with workers supporting each other and overcoming business challenges together. You need to foster an environment where employees have a shared goal to work towards and feel empowered to make a positive contribution to the organisation rather than feeling like a faceless cog in the machine. Reward employees for actions that reinforce the culture you’re driving towards and you’ll propagate the desired behaviour as well as reduce staff turnover.
5. Celebrate failures
Failure is an inevitable part of success. When we learn to walk for example, we start by falling down countless times before we master the skill. Naturally there are times when failure can be harmful (e.g. missed customer deadlines) but in many cases, failure can be a valuable catalyst for learning and development and should therefore be embraced by the leadership team. The key is to understand the difference between innovation and execution. Good managers will encourage staff to experiment and take risks when trying new things but will ensure workers also know when they need to play it safe and stick with tried and trusted processes. If you’re going to drive culture change, it’s going to involve people trying out new ideas and being comfortable with the risk they may not always work. By sharing failures and the lessons learned from them, organisations can increase their risk tolerance which is in itself, a valuable cultural change.
6. Rethink meetings
Most organisations can do a lot better when it comes to meetings. Firstly, ditch pointless ‘status update’ type meetings and instead issue short written update summaries. Secondly, be disciplined about start and end times, set specific agenda topics to prevent meetings dragging on and kick them off with decision making agenda items leaving wider discussion until the end. Try stand up meetings where everyone stays on their feet for the duration and marvel at how much more efficient they become. Finally, avoid filling days with back to back meetings as these leave no time for consideration of any outcomes or to follow up on the takeaways.
7. Invest in training
The more training your employees receive, the better they’ll become at doing their jobs and the more likely the company will be successful. Structured, formal training is great but also try to create opportunities for informal, on the job learning and learning through collaboration. A good team working environment breeds engaged employees willing to work together for the good of the whole.
8. Introduce urgency
Getting things done happens at the speed as the slowest person involved in the process so inject some urgency and accountability into proceedings. One way to achieve this would be via a new company rule that stipulates all decisions must be made within 48 hours. If that’s too drastic, maybe introduce measures to reward decisions - even the bad ones as it encourages the right mindset. You could for instance allocate 3 points for taking a decision and deduct a point if it turns out to be a bad decision. Even bad decisions leave you further ahead than no decision at all.
9. Challenge yourself
Encourage staff to ask difficult questions, particularly during meetings when there’s no hiding place. Whilst you won’t have all the answers, the exercise stimulates a growth mindset and an environment where there is a willingness to learn new things. Tough questions lead to new challenges. By laying down a challenge you provide opportunity for development. When you task your employees with solving these challenges you in effect confirm your investment in them and enrich their working life. Expect them to be loyal to your organisational culture in return.
10. Cultivate positivity
There’s nothing quite as inspiring as positivity and enthusiasm. Celebrate your successes, share interesting articles and exciting stories and watch the good vibes spread infectiously. Eliminate negativity as much as possible as well; stop using words which kill passion such as can’t. Recognise that culture change cannot happen overnight, it can take months or years depending on where you’re starting out from and requires ongoing investment. It is not a one time exercise.
Company culture is a hard thing to get right because of its intangible nature. It means different things to different people and is constantly changing as well. The above tips should nevertheless set you off in the right direction, banish some of the typical business frustrations you’re probably experiencing and help your organisation run like a well oiled machine.