Shaping company culture is work, especially as companies scale. It's a process that requires visionary leaders who can inspire every member of the organization to commit for the long haul. But the payoff of such work is well worth the effort.
After helping executives for nearly thirty years foster a Culture of Accountability® within their organizations, we've learned a lot from the leaders at the helm of making major culture transformations. We asked three of them to share advice for those who are just beginning the process of culture change: Susan T. Carroll, the Chief Regional Executive Officer at Inova Health System; Joanne McInnerney, VP of Human Resources at Novelis; and Dave Schlotterbeck, the retired chairman and CEO of CareFusion.
While these execs come from different fields and backgrounds, they share similar experiences and insights from successfully shaping workplace culture. Here's what each of them had to say about the challenges involved--and how to overcome them.
1) Make Change a Personal Priority, and Lead by Example
Culture change is an organization-wide process, but it must start at the top. It's important that every member of the C-suite align around the same goals, or the initiative won't take hold. McInnerney, for example, recalls that several prior cultural initiatives at Novelis failed due to a reluctant leader. They only began to see real results once their leader wholeheartedly committed to the culture shift.
Schlotterbeck notes that it is very easy to spot executives who don't practice what they preach. "Culture changes one person at a time, and that includes the CEO," he says. "If you aren't leading by example, you can't expect everyone else to do the work."
2) Keep It Simple
When you're measuring your progress towards cultural transformation, it can be easy to find yourself bogged down in a sea of data. But it's important to simplify efforts and focus on the metrics that matter -- those that are most clearly connected to your organization's top three to five objectives, what we call Key Results. As McInnerney states, "It's not about being perfect; it's about being perfectly aligned to the outcomes."
In healthcare, for example, practitioners have a vast amount of data available that can be used to improve health outcomes, but working to improve results in every measurable arena simply isn't productive. To narrow the field down, Carroll centered her new company culture around the core duty of healthcare: do no harm. By creating an understandable, measurable goal that every employee could rally around, she enabled widespread change across the organization.
3) Culture Becomes Strategy Through Execution
Execution is how you harness the power of an organization to deliver on strategy. The more aligned a culture is, the easier a strategy transitions from plan to action.
For McInnerney, this was the central takeaway from the cultural initiative at Novelis. The company already had some innovative strategies in place, including a plan to become a first mover in automobiles, but struggled to actualize the potential returns. The company hit its Key Results once they focused on shaping a culture to match its strategic objectives.
4) Engage Every Employee
As you execute a cultural shift, engage with every member of the organization. As Carroll states, "One of the first lessons I learned was that everyone was involved in culture, including me." Since culture is built on the actions and attitude of everyone who participates in it, the whole company must actively work together to change it. Organizations achieve game-changing results when everyone on the team individually and collectively take accountability to achieve them.
As all these executives learned, it takes great leaders to change culture; and great leaders embody patience and empathy to earn the buy-in and support of everyone in the organization. To truly take hold, companywide alignment is a must.
Interested in learning more? Join these three execs for a fireside chat during our "Results Side of Culture" webinar.