14 Things CHROs and People Leaders Keep in Mind with Culture Change

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14 Things CHROs and People Leaders Keep in Mind with Culture Change

What is the one thing to keep in mind when building or changing your organizational culture?

To help your company build or change its organizational culture, we asked CHROs and business owners this question for their best insights. From putting company values at the forefront of decisions to actively engaging your employees, there are several things that CHROs and people leaders recommend you keep in mind when building or making changes to a company’s organizational culture.

Here are 14 things CHROs keep in mind with organizational change:

Put company values at the forefront of decisions

If you feel a need to change your company’s culture to fit with changing priorities or new circumstances, you must ensure that those changes align with your company’s values. Consider why your company has the organizational values it was built upon in the first place. Then, see how a cultural change might fit into or necessitate a change in those values and whether the culture needs to change or your company’s values do.

Thorin Yee
Thorin Yee, Best Companies AZ

Ask why and how

There is no silver bullet or shortcuts when taking on the Herculean efforts of changing company culture, and there is no one product or tool that will manage the heavy lifting for you.

In my experience, the most essential element of cultural transformation is to influence and open the minds and hearts of each and every individual within the organization. We have to change our mindset and understand “why” we need a change and “how” the change will benefit the individual and the organization.

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Culture lives in every conversation, email, meeting, and connection point between employees, customers, and vendors. Culture is the outcome of how we behave. Therefore, to change a culture, we must change ourselves and the way in which we interact with others and execute the work we do every day. It’s not an initiative; it’s a mindset and a way of life that starts inside and radiates out.

Barbie Winterbottom
Barbie Winterbottom, The Business of HR

Who you hire has the biggest impact on culture

Forget the fancy published values and culture statements expecting anything written to magically become a reality. A positive and dynamic organizational culture can take years to nurture and grow — and one day for it to spiral downward. Who a company hires into a senior leadership role or on a team can have an instant positive or negative effect on culture.

Look around and see a new leader with a negative reputation or leadership style come into a company at any level, and employees immediately start updating their CVs. Hire one employee with a horrible personality on a team, and others will leave, no matter how smart or talented the new hire may be. Hiring is the front door to a company’s culture.

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Scott Baker
Scott Baker, Stage 3 Leadership

Implement employee recognition efforts

Your employees’ hard work deserves recognition, and they want to feel appreciated. If they sense their presence isn’t appreciated and their work is going unrecognized, their dissatisfaction will grow, leading to high turnover rates. A company culture in which employees feel valued is one people will want to stay connected to.

Implementing a company culture that focuses on employee recognition will increase morale, productivity, and overall job satisfaction across the board.

Ed Stevens
Ed Stevens, Preciate

Make cultural change relevant to all

While it’s important to get top management buy-in, cultural change will only be effective when the what, why, and how of the change is made relevant to the people who truly drive it forward. You must couple this with the need to revisit the organizational ecosystem of structure, system, processes & policies to allow for its seamless integration.

Rohit Manucha
Rohit Manucha, SIH AGH

Memorialize desired behaviors and actions

One thing to keep in mind when building or evolving organizational culture is evaluating the behaviors and actions that are currently being recognized and rewarded. If they are the desired behaviors, memorialize and map those to your values. Make it stick by consistently rewarding and publicly recognizing desired behaviors.

People watch what gets recognized/rewarded within an organization and are more likely to adopt those behaviors as well.

Melissa Bruno
Melissa Bruno, Chief People Officer Consultant

Avoid creating a fanfare about culture change

Making a big announcement about culture change at a company event is likely to concern your employees rather than excite them. This can cause fear and chaos in your organization. A better approach is to be low-key and make small changes one at a time. Consider ways to encourage engaging, interactive communications to get your employees invested in the process and give their feedback.

This more inclusive approach will win you deeper support and allow you to gauge how your employees perceive the changes.

Shape and influence your culture

Culture is all about the shared values and beliefs of employees that guide their discretionary behavior. You need to find ways for your employees to use their discretion. It’s all about using their discretion so that the same is beneficial for the sustained excellence of your organization. Are you inspiring your employees to do that today and every day?

Bala Sathyanarayanan
Bala Sathyanarayanan, Greif Inc
CHROs and Culture Change

Executive buy-in is crucial for cultural change stickiness

Top-level leadership must role model the values it wants to see in precise unison. The team should align on operating and setting norms for how communication happens, trust is built, and challenges are solved together. Otherwise, that dissonance will be telegraphed and only drive the business further away from the desired state.

Executive unity builds confidence in leadership, which, in turn, drives a shared belief in the work. With this, a cohesive culture will take root, strengthened by observed and practiced organizational values.

Angela Cheng-Cimini
Angela Cheng-Cimini, Harvard Business Publishing

Overcommunicate during times of cultural change

Cultural shifts or changes will make everyone uneasy in companies because change impacts how we interact with each other, our jobs, and how we do them. Leaders need to consistently ask employees how they are doing during the change and REALLY listen. Then, when they take action based on what people say concerning the cultural shift, talk about it.

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Overcommunication is key during times of cultural change to give people the sense of being in the know and comfortable.

Focus culture on strategic advantages

When building your culture, it is critical to identify cultural attributes that provide a strategic advantage (for Regeneron, the company I worked at, it was Science, innovation, and speed). You need to keep these at any cost.

  • Talk about them constantly inside and outside the company.
  • Attract, select or screen out potential employees for behaviors that support/undermine them.
  • Ensure you practice what you preach.
  • Conduct a survey to measure these attributes over time so you can recalibrate if needed.

In addition, as you describe and build your desired culture, it is equally important to understand what you don’t want to be and to also talk about that (at Regeneron, it was “Big Pharma”, bureaucratic, slow, and cautious).

Ross Grossman
Ross Grossman, Retired CHRO and Consultant

It’s all about the implementation

Sometimes organizations are faced with the task of changing their culture as the result of a merger, and sometimes organizations need to make a course correction to guide the organization. Both of these scenarios share a common risk that every HR leader needs to make sure they watch out for.

The magic is all in the implementation. We are conditioned to do a lot of due diligence, studies, and focus groups leading up to a change event. Still, not many organizations exert the same focus after the event.

You need to make sure that the old norms do not interfere with the new model.

Eric Torigian
Eric Torigian, CHRO Solutions

Know what you believe in

It is critical to have a clear mission and communicate it (obsessively) to the organization. Make sure that it becomes embedded into the company’s culture: it will be part of your recruiting strategy, your training and development, your measurable objectives and reviews, your compensation philosophy, your promotions and career pathing.

It will be the north star, and during mission-critical moments it can be the key to resolving conflict constructively: Is what we are debating about advancing our mission? How you define yourself also clarifies how you differentiate yourself, how you can grow, scale, and evolve into what you established as vision.

Andreea Boier
Andreea Boier, Kairos Ventures

Actively engage employees to drive culture changes

Changes to organizational culture call for an “all-in” approach that addresses historical context, the best practices of today, and the future vision for the company. It’s important to start with clear, cross-functional communication and transparency that generates a sense of belonging to a company’s overarching strategy. This way of communication creates a deep understanding of the connection between an individual’s role, the changes being introduced, and desired business outcomes.

When employees understand where the business is headed, they can contribute, co-designing the cultural changes with employees throughout the organization. These change-makers are now part of the cultural evolution instead of just recipients of a leadership “talk track”. They are now empowered to drive change throughout the company.

Jill Larsen
Jill Larsen, PTC

These expert insights have been collected by Terkel. Terkel creates community-driven content featuring expert insights.

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