Business Practices

Culture change in businesses

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The culture change challenge

One of the biggest challenges business owners are likely to face is how to change their own internal company culture. It’s something most bosses need to face at some point.

Unfortunately, this can seem like trying to turn a large and unwieldy ship in heavy seas. It takes time and effort and you can’t always expect your current employees to be 100% on board. The mistake that many business owners make is focusing on just the process of change and ignore its emotional impact.

Reasons for changing the culture

The chances are your existing culture most probably formed over several years.

Small changes here and there may have finally led to poor communication in the workplace, a problem that now means different departments don’t operate effectively together. No one is really to blame but something now needs to be done about it.

Or perhaps your business culture has created a toxic environment that makes you bad place to work for, putting employees under so much stress they can’t perform their jobs properly. Maybe you’re a sales team that has become too focused on results rather than the well-being of staff.

Your culture may not be ‘bad’ at all but you want to make changes in order to improve productivity or simply benefit the work life balance of your staff. There could be new industry rules and regulation which require concrete changes in your business model or processes. Perhaps you’ve merged with another business and you need to align the two cultures or you are moving to new premises and want to use this opportunity to reorganise departments.

Whether you are a large or small business, whether the change is big or simply involves a few tweaks here and there, developing a strong plan for change and putting good leadership in place are both imperative.

Understanding your existing culture

Company meeting about changeThere’s no point in bringing about any change unless you understand what the current situation is, and why you want things to be different. It’s not always easy to step back and take an objective look at your business but you need to find a way to do it.

Let’s say you are finding it difficult to attract or retain top performers to your business. One of the reasons may be that your company doesn’t provide adequate support for people to develop their careers. Once you know the problem and it’s cause, you can take action. Your solution should create a culture where learning and continuing professional development plays a central part.

Culture change doesn’t always have to be heading from a negative to a positive. It could involve building on existing good practice.

For instance, if you are trying to create more brand awareness in a competitive market, you might want to incentivise you staff so that they promote you better and feel engaged with your company.

You could potentially do this by introducing rewards. For example by creating a standout work environment that matches your brand values and meets your employees expectations. You might also make changes to your on-boarding process for new starters so that they are up to speed with the company culture. Or you might even encourage employees to talk about you on their own social media timelines.

Planning for change

Culture Change PlanningOnce you understand what you want to change and why, the next challenge is putting a plan together that you can realistically implement. You’ll need focused goals, have good leadership and you’ll certainly need the buy-in from your employees. That means being able to explain why certain steps are being taken and what you hope to achieve by them.

The mistake many business owners make is to try and push things along too quickly. That can mean you end up distancing yourself from your employees rather than bringing them along on the journey with you. The change becomes authoritative and draconian rather than organic and beneficial.

One of the key parts of any plan for cultural change is motivating staff and engaging them with the whole process. Great leadership is grounded in empathy and trust. It is not solely about logical goal setting.

Dealing with resistance

The biggest challenge that you will face is employees who are resistant to change. This is not unusual with big transformations such as structural organisations.  Staff have gotten used to their roles and their place in the workforce, and they can see change as a threat and that’s perfectly understandable.

You may see everything from a purely structural point of view but your staff will be taking things very personally. You need to understand how fear and uncertainty can build into resistance. That’s why good communication and building trust is vital in any cultural change. And, by communication, we mean listening as well as speaking.

The art of getting staff on your side

Some staff will relish and encourage change, and others are bound to be more resistant. You should be prepared that you may have employees who are not happy with your proposed changes. This goes with the territory. Show them empathy and understanding if you want them eventually to come come around to change.

Get individuals involved as early as possible and obtain their input into the process. Most people do not like when change is imposed on them or it is a surprise. They much prefer to have had a say, at least in some part. If you can link them into your goals and ambitions for the future it makes things far easier.

The key is helping employees see the positive side of any culture change while minimising the negative. For some, there may indeed be major impacts on their work life and they will certainly have some difficulty adjusting. The leaders you have in place need to be empathise with their fears and come up with practical solutions.

Making the change too big in the first place can also cause issues. It’s far better to break any cultural transformation into smaller chunks that are easier to achieve for both you and your staff. Large change can seem inhibiting and dangerous, smaller ones less so.

There’s no doubt that cultural change can be a huge challenge in any business. Make sure that you understand what your are trying to change and have a carefully thought out plan in place, as well as empathetic leadership. It’s not always easy but when you have the right building blocks in place even major changes are possible.

Seek advice

There are experts that can help. Consultants and contractors can help provide experience and skills to help smooth and speed up the transformation. If the change is large enough you may need to provide additional resource to your HR Team. Lastly you will want to seek legal advice if changes are affecting roles.

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