Creating a paradigm shift in organizational culture
By Karen Marlo, President, Resigility, and Michelle Blouse, Founder and Partner, Eutemia
The saying “change is hard” is especially applicable to adapting organizational cultures. Case in point: our current work with a government agency to build an open culture encouraging diversity of thought and new ideas, enabling decision-making at all levels and instilling accountability. At times, driving culture change might seem comparable to turning the Titanic, but we believe the time and effort are worthwhile investments to creating a true paradigm shift for the organization as a whole and a more positive work environment for each employee.
Walking the talk
For a few years Resigility has been working with this agency to digitally transform for greater efficiency and effectiveness in meeting the needs of internal and external customers. Recognizing that digital transformation won’t be successful without a culture that supports it, we started partnering with Eutemia about a year ago to deliver additional change management expertise and coaching. The impetus for our collaboration came after we helped the organization revise its core values in 2020 but found everyone had difficulty putting those values into practice by walking the talk and altering long-standing behaviors.
Compounding the challenge was the fact that this organization had not appreciably changed in 15 or more years, operating in a deeply ingrained environment of “this is what we do, because this is the way it’s always been done.” Other dynamics at play include a roughly 30-70 split between employees and contractors, micro cultures within headquarters teams and at regional locations, and a global pandemic that produced near-equal measures of burden and opportunity for change.
Developing an optimum culture
Resigility and Eutemia are committed to supporting this organization as it navigates its formidable and complex climate to achieve a workplace of empowered employees expressing their diverse views, suggesting new ideas and making decisions without fear of reproach. Although each company or organization has unique circumstances affecting its ability to evolve, we offer the following steps as general food for thought on the road to an optimum culture:
Listen, to both customers and employees. We recommend senior leaders conduct a listening tour of customers to understand their pain points and what they want from the organization. A series of employee focus groups led by a trusted consultant or third party provides a solid way to listen, understand the current state and identify the cultural ideal.
Communicate. We can’t overstate the necessity of communicating the organization’s values. The government agency unveiled its four new values in an all-hands meeting last summer and continues using every opportunity to reinforce them, such as:
Sending laminated cards designed to sit on each employee’s desk as a reminder of the cultural values.
Issuing weekly emails from senior leadership featuring actions that epitomize the values and culture they are working to transform.
Discussing a culture topic at monthly staff meetings.
Show. People must see what the organization’s values look like. We’re beginning to share tangible examples of behaviors reflecting the government agency’s values. On top of helping the team understand the “from” and “to” of their evolving culture, highlighting specific successes goes a lot farther than words in nurturing desired conduct.
Keep going. Avoid falling into the trap of change being insurmountable or justifying “change is impossible for us because (fill in the blank).” Every industry, company or organization has distinct issues that make change tough but attainable.
An essential journey
While the government agency we’re supporting is still in the thick of changing its organizational culture, we’re seeing signs of progress mixed with periodic setbacks. This stage is typical and underscores how significant and challenging culture change is – and why patience is required (most initiatives of this type take a minimum of five to seven years). Nevertheless, we are convinced that the journey is essential to realizing the benefits of individual and organizational change, growth and workplace satisfaction.