As an Agile Coach, I used to work with various companies where my goal was to improve the overall effectiveness of the clients’ organizations. Changing organization culture might be the key factor and a milestone on the way to achieving high organization efficiency. From the software house perspective, we are often a part of our client’s company culture, and yes, sometimes we change organization culture from the inside.
There might be many reasons why organizations (business owners) may want to change organization culture, but this topic is for a different article.
One may say that changing organization culture is an extremely hard task, but what if I told you that you can change almost every organization culture in three simple steps?
To change your organization's culture, you need to do the following.
1. Change the Top-Level Decision Makers
Culture always starts at the top of the organization. The entire organization and all people there have a huge impact on the culture, but not as big as the key people. Top-level decision makers (i.e., CEOs, CTOs, and CFOs) are defining the way the organization works. By that, they define its culture.
If you already know how would you like your organization culture to look, you have the vision and know what core values you would like to implement into your organization, then it is time for the next step. You need to look for a person who is living according to these values and express the culture you would like to implement in their behavior every day. Then, you need to “simply” hire them in top-level positions. You might think that soon or later those behaviors will be copied down to the lower levels of your organization. The new culture will spread among your people automatically. Doing it the opposite way is hard, and after few years of working in this business, I would not recommend it.
Remember: a fish rots from the head down.
2. Change 50% of Your Employees
Yes, if you really want to change your company culture, you will probably have to fire half of your crew and hire new people. If your organization is hierarchical, I would recommend you starting with managers. Why? According to the first step, everything starts at the top. There are other “tops” below the top in a hierarchical organization.
Most people will naturally resist changes no matter what the changes are. This is just the way we behave. Your employees are the key part of your organization. They have the biggest impact on company culture. If their personal values are not corresponding to your vision and the chance that they will fit into new company culture is low, then probably you need to fire them. You need to find and hire someone whose values correspond to your vision.
Changing only the top-level decision makers might be not enough if they will face resistance from the bottom of the organization. Because of that, your chances for culture change decrease drastically. If you want to change something, you need to change something. In this case, you need to build the counterbalance for the status quo that will allow the change to emerge. Don't worry – this is not so difficult. Just hire the right people at the top-level positions and give them the freedom to choose who they would like to work with.
Of course, firing half your people on a single day would be probably a suicide for your business. It will be a long process. When changes will start emerging, some of your employees may become unhappy. You have to be clear. There is no other option for your employees than to fit into the new reality or look for another opportunity on the market.
3. Change the Environment
“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.” — Karl Marx
It is hard to explain, but believe it or not, culture is hardly bounded with a physical space. To change office culture, you need to think about changing the environment people spend their time at work. You may move to another location, you may redesign your office, or you may just add few new tools like whiteboards that will enforce conversations and creativity. Add some information radiators that will increase the communication and goal focus. Even changing the tools used by your organization might be enough to make an impact on company culture. For example, even changing some heavy management software used in your organization with something lightweight may change the way people behave.
Simple, Isn’t It?
I have told you that it's simple to change company culture. However, I never said it will be easy to implement the changes.
From my observations, many organizations have already followed (more or less consciously) those three steps and succeeded with culture change. The process, depending on organization size, usually takes from a year up to few decades. Almost no one is firing 50% of their staff on a single day. Finding good top-level decision makers is not so simple and easy. Still, all of that is possible.