Here are seven steps you can take as a business leader that will help you achieve culture change and ensure organizational and customer experience excellence. Time after time, as a culture change consultant, I find this to be what works. Very little of this is easy, but all of it is worthwhile.

1) Make your decision. You need to make the decision that cultural change is a priority, that putting customers (and the employees, and vendors, and systems that serve them) front and center matters.

2) Put that decision into (a very few) words. An explicit but very brief statement of what that decision looks like. How you’re going to treat customers. How you’re going to support employees. How you’re going to treat vendors. Because making a decision once isn’t enough--you need a clear way to refer back to it.

3) Align your employment and recruiting practices to with your newly-stated values. Every single employee, from that moment forward, needs to be hired for reasons that are congruent with your newly stated values. This is very, very important.

4) Overhaul your orientation process. The way you bring employees into a company is all-important. As I like to say, you need to go overboard with the onboard. Overboard in stressing (ideally, have the CEO there, personally stressing) the purpose of employment at your organization, as opposed to the normal stuff stressed at orientation: how to handle the minutiae of your job description, signing in and out, and so forth.

5) Review and refine your HR policies. no more docking people for coming in late from the lunch break to assist a customer they found in distress. No more ranking based on average handle time on phone calls. And so forth. The CEO can make the highest of high-minded values statements, but here is where reality comes home to roost, where your culture can be supported or sabotaged.

6) Design and implement a plan for ongoing reinforcement. Onboarding is important, proper hiring is important, but ongoing reinforcement is crucial. Perhaps the best plan for most organizations is to follow the Ritz-Carlton daily lineup approach: a few minutes every day discussing just one of your list of cultural values or service standards, with the meeting led by a different employee every time. The result, added up over a year or years, is a lot of reinforcement. And it makes every single one of those days of that year or years better on its own.

7) Give your employees input into the design of the work that involves them. In business, we have a terrible tradition going back at least as far as Frederick Taylor (yes, the “Taylorism” Taylor) that jobs are things done by employees, but designed by their so-called superiors. As our society has grown more specialized, this bias has increased in its intensity. While, of course, to some extent this has to be true, especially in life-threatening situations-your employee can lead an evacuation down a fire escape but can’t necessarily design standards for what is an acceptable or unacceptable level of smoke inhalation-it’s important to simultaneously push against it, to let your employees know what they need to get done but not necessarily how they should go about designing their day and carrying out their duties.

Because if employees are only doing things right because you spelled out every little thing out, even if you do so very, very elegantly, you haven’t created a culture, and you haven’t created an approach that is sustainable. A culture is a living thing, powered by and kept up to date by the people who are encouraged to be, in a meaningful way, part of it.

Published on: Jul 15, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.