24 April 2023 |

Can a company really change its culture?

By Hebba Youssef

Maybe but also maybe not. 🤷🏽‍♀️

Have you ever worked somewhere where you loved the people but hated the culture? Been there! 

At some point you probably thought or wished that the company culture could change. 

Real talk: it’s pretty hard to transform company cultures. 

Why?

1. People are resistant to change. This should be the title of my autobiography because it’s why many things are hard in HR. 

If you’ve ever worked somewhere where the phrase “this is how it’s always been done” has been uttered, RUN. That phrase indicates a clear resistance to change. 

2. Leadership isn’t supportive of change. I covered why founders/leadership may be resistant to change last week

3. Lack of a clear vision for culture. If I asked you to define culture, what would you say? Chances are folks would have a lot of different answers. 

Culture is complicated. 

Culture is influenced by so many different factors, is always evolving, and means something different to every person. 

Those factors make it even more difficult to set a clear vision to change a culture. 

Spoiler alert: there is a direct correlation between company culture and performance. 

Don’t despair! There are a few examples of major companies that have been able to facilitate cultural change. They all have one thing in common…

What companies have been able to change their culture?

Cultural transformation isn’t impossible! Just ask Microsoft, Starbucks or IBM. 

Storytime… 

Once upon a Microsoft:

In the early 2000s Microsoft was known for its cut-throat and political culture. Cough toxic cough. 

Microsoft was also missing out on major tech innovations like internet search, cellphones, and cloud. Something had to change. 

Enter Satya Nadella as CEO. He transformed the culture by:

  • Aligning the shareholders on the necessity of culture change 
  • Embracing empathy, growth mindset and mindfulness
  • Re-inventing internal processes like performance management, surveys, and talent mobility. 
  • Training managers 

Since he took over Microsoft has made major plays like acquiring Linkedin and Blizzard and growing an expanded presence in cloud.

The stock price has only gone up since Nadella took over and today Microsoft is one of the most valuable companies. 

So, moral of the story?

Cultural transformation is possible! And…

Great company culture = great company performance 

Optional reading: How Starbucks and IBM also changed their culture. 

Spoiler alert: all of these cultural changes happened when new leadership took over. 

So, I’m asking you again to consider: are your leaders capable of change?

If the answer is no, your job might be incredibly difficult but nonetheless, I have tips for what you can potentially do to transform your culture.

What HR teams can do to facilitate cultural change: 

Hi, just your friendly HR person here to remind you that culture is EVERYONE’S job. There are things HR can do to facilitate culture but without everyone on board, it can be a waste of time. 

4 steps you can take to help facilitate cultural change: 

Step 1: Define your future culture. If your founders or leaders cannot answer the question “What type of culture do you want here” you may be in trouble.

If that feels overwhelming try asking the question “What behaviors do we want to see from our employees?” That can start the conversation. 

BTW: You cannot change your culture if you don’t know how to define your culture. 

Step 2: Double down on communication. If your ideal culture isn’t written down or shared somewhere how do you expect your employees to understand the company culture? 

Transformation can only happen if everyone involved knows it’s happening! 😂

If you change anything about your culture or processes you should have a thorough and thoughtful communication plan. 

Don’t write a novel, keep it simple:

  • What’s the current state
  • What’s changing 
  • How does it impact employees
  • Where to go with questions 

Step 3: Ingrain culture into EVERY company process. 
If you care about building and maintaining your culture then your culture must be more than words on a website or values on a Notion page. 

You have to incorporate your cultural values into every process like:

  • Hiring
  • Onboarding
  • Performance management 
  • Training and development
  • Recognition 

Here’s another resource full of great examples!

Step 4: Solicit and collect feedback. 

Taking temperature checks of how your employees are reacting to the changing culture will help enforce if you are on the right path. 

But remember that not everyone feels completely safe being honest with their feedback. There are ways to get feedback from employees that can make them feel safe. Anonymous feedback or surveys with no identifiers is a great place to start. 

As you build more trust with employees around change employees may be more forthcoming. 

One last thought: change takes time, so be patient!

Next well I’ll dive into a very important skill needed for managing change and relationships at work – how to diffuse tensions in the workplace. Just call me a diplomat. 🤓