If your organisation is not on the Most Respected list, or even if it is and you want to improve, what can you do about improving the culture?

This is a topic of interest to board and management teams alike – the competitive advantage of a healthy culture is becoming more evident.

Organisations see culture as a basis for attracting and retaining key talent, customers and business partners. In an increasingly service based economy the right culture provides the basis of innovation and flexibility at a time that organisations need to be agile.

What do you need

A good starting point for a board or management team is to be clear on the existing culture and what you need to retain – the things that are core to your organisation. It is also important to be clear on what you need for the future and what gap exists between your current culture and your desired culture.

Depending on the organisation, this work is done by management or other times by the board. Either way, alignment between the board and management about the desired culture is critical. Both have a key role in setting the tone of 'how we do things around here'.

Once this target culture is clarified, it is possible to implement a plan to shift the culture. This sometimes begins with quick wins (or more intensive work) of removing the most obvious barriers. For example, there can be great impact of removing a policy that reinforces inflexibility of customer service in favour of values based guidelines of how to look after customers.

Often the barriers to implementing a new culture are influential leaders who continue to behave in a way at odds with what the organisation wants its culture and values to reflect. If the board and management are serious about culture shift, they can't tolerate behaviour at odds with the desired culture.  What is tolerated is reinforced.

Culture shift

To ensure you successfully shift your culture, you need leaders and other influential colleagues to act in line with your values and what you stand for.

Ensuring culture change sticks and isn't seen as a passing fad boards and management can ensure successful implementation by working on a range of reinforcers such as policies, reward structures, customer strategies. These help to hardwire a new culture and ensure it sticks.

Furthermore, 'it takes a village': to ensure the culture sticks, all team members need to be developed and supported to understand their role and how they need to work, engage with customers and behave differently to ensure the desired culture really does become 'the new way we do things around here'.

's tips for changing culture

  1. Be clear on what needs to be fundamentally different and what needs to be retained: what is your 'as is' and 'to be' culture.
  2. Remove the barriers to changing.
  3. Make it happen by changing the actions and behaviours of leaders.
  4. Make it stick by changing what you reinforce (eg organisation policies, rewards) and help employees understand what the changed culture means for them.

*this article first appeared on the Financial Review website


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About the contributor

Tim is the Managing Director of Korn Ferry in Australasia. He has more than 25 years of experience executing global executive search and talent management solutions across the Asia Pacific region.

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