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Three Foundations for Creating or Shifting Organizational Culture

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Three Foundations for Creating or Shifting Organizational Culture

Every organization has a corporate culture. But when it becomes clear it is not going to get you where you need to go, what do you do? How do you bring your culture to life and shift it in new directions?

I recently probed this question as part of a World Café session held by some Human Resources Management Association members in Vancouver. Drawing on the collective wisdom of eleven of us, we identified three must-have foundations for creating organizational culture in a determined way. Here they are:

  1. Leadership matters.
  2. Manage change around specific values.
  3. Build these into everything and ruthlessly reinforce.

The passion for culture change must come from the CEO. This is not simply “sponsorship”. It is communicating the urgency and vision. What should the future look like and why must we get there now? And it is backing this up with conviction.

Several people contributing to our World Café session had specific examples of what constitutes conviction. The most potent examples were about taking culture seriously when selecting and promoting staff. When a rising star is not promoted because they consistently fail to uphold some of the identified cultural values, things become real. Stories circulate. Culture is reinforced.


World café session exploring experiences and ideas around creating culture

Values are your cultural traits and provide a structure for change. Creating or shifting a culture is all about recognizing and nurturing the desired values. Mostly positive reinforcement will suffice, but it is also important to identify old values that need to fade away. When those old values are ones that block change, such as “entitlement” or “office politics”, leaders must show zero tolerance.

Reinforcing the desired values, and squashing the limiting ones, should be baked into everything you do. Aspects of these should permeate every communication, gate every reward program, and drive how recognition happens. Take care to do this in ways that are genuine and specific – your new culture needs to be real, and as one café participant said “everyone has to live it”.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to all the participants for contributions to the ideas communicated here. Most notably to Lisa Ryan of Right Management for facilitating, and to Helen Jackson of Port Metro Vancouver for hosting it.

Brad Palmer

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