Published in “Project Times” website, March, 2013
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In my 20+ years of experience as an operations executive, a global supply chain consultant and a non-profit trade association leader, I’ve found navigating culture change is a requirement for success – no matter the initiative. If your company isn’t merging cultures, embarking on a major change initiative such as an ERP implementation or dramatically changing the business to ensure top notch customer service in today’s volatile new normal environment, you’ll probably be left in the dust. Thus, those who thrive in this chaotic business world learn to be proficient at culture change.
My clients who cover diverse industries (from aerospace to consumer products to healthcare products) unanimously find culture change to be one of the most challenging obstacles to overcome. Successful culture change is not dictated. It isn’t a one-time event. And there’s no formula for success. Thus, a few strategies for success should come in handy: 1) Strategic clarity. 2) Give it a boost with enthusiasm. 3) You get what you measure. 3) Make it visible.
- State the vision – Before going any further, it is essential to state the vision. Why are you undergoing culture change? How does it relate to where the company is headed? Why is it important to the executives? To each employee? Give your employees, customers and suppliers an opportunity to understand the vision – and to find out whether the new culture will be the type of place they’d enjoy working and collaborating. If so, they can become a champion. If not, it’s better if they get out early!For example, one of my clients wanted to change the culture from a focus on purely revenue to one focused on customer service. They started by communicating the new vision and culture. It gave folks an opportunity to ask questions and debate upfront. In another client, we had to transform the culture from a robust, process-driven culture to a more innovative one that kept the essentials of the processes without the baggage. We communicated upfront about the expectations for the future so that folks could determine whether they fit in this new culture.
- Give it a boost with enthusiasm – Even the most exciting culture change will sound hum-drum if presented in a monotone and without enthusiasm. Assuming you wouldn’t be embarking on the challenging process of culture change if it wasn’t essential, don’t put obstacles in your way. Be enthusiastic! Find the positive. Show folks why they should be interested and excited for the new culture change.For example, my customer service culture change client communicated the vision for a customer-centric culture with gusto. What could be more important than ensuring customers get what they need when they need it? And for the innovative culture, we emphasized how we could build upon the solid foundation they had built with a bit of innovation and talked about how they could have a larger effect on the future by combining the best of both approaches.
- You get what you measure – It matters little what you say if you hold folks accountable to a different set of metrics. Who wants to listen yet fail?! It’s easy to overlook this strategy yet it is vital to success. Find simple yet meaningful metrics that will measure what you’d like to occur with your culture change.For example, in the customer service culture change client, we changed the metrics from revenue, revenue, revenue to a focus on on-time delivery with the caveat that older was worse in terms of the metric. Thus, if you shipped an order 1 day late, you received a higher score than if you shipped the order 30 days late. It spurred interest in the customer! And for the innovative culture, we didn’t track process efficiencies solely as it didn’t encourage risk-taking. Instead, we tracked new ideas for resolving issues and trials.
- Make it visible – Last but not least, it’s essential to make the change visible. Give people an example of what the new culture change looks like. Find role models and make sure they are on board with the culture change. People will follow those they know, like and respect.For example, in the customer service culture client, a respected executive made sure he was not only available to discuss the culture change but also was visible and easily accessible. He sat in the midst of everyone involved in the culture change. There was no open door policy as no door was required! And in the innovative culture example, we congratulated team members who tried new ideas to move the company forward – whether they failed or succeeded. The idea was to encourage innovation which doesn’t occur without failure.
Few executives and companies achieve culture change smoothly and successfully. In the rare occasion of rapid success, each of these strategies was utilized. Follow these simple yet powerful strategies and success will follow.