Changing an Organization’s Culture

Larry Bonfante, Founder, CIO Bench Coach | 12/26/2012 | 18 comments

Larry Bonfante
In addition to being the CIO at the USTA, I have been given the privilege to lead our organization-wide culture change initiative.

Trying to change the way we function as a company is an important and daunting task. It’s especially challenging given the fact that historically, we've had a great deal of success. It’s tough to convince people to change when they feel that the way they’ve done things in the past has worked well for them.

When trying to change the culture of an organization, it’s critical that you personalize the value of the proposed change. While most people try to be altruistic, to truly get 100 percent buy-in, people need to clearly understand what’s in it for them. We actually created a "what's in it for me" team that is helping our staff understand the personal value they can hope to glean from being part of an improved culture.

It’s also important that change happens from both the top as well as the bottom. We have elicited leaders from every level of the organization to participate in our culture change effort. It’s critical that people from every strata in the company, every business unit, see representatives from their world actively and positively engaged in helping to drive the required change.

People believe people like themselves. The CEO can espouse the need for change, but it's much more powerful for an administrative assistant to hear the same messaging from a fellow assistant.

The senior leadership of an organization also needs to consistently model the behaviors they're promoting. It’s one thing for a so-called leader to “talk the talk.” It’s another thing for that individual to be seen “walking the talk.” People take their cues from their leaders. Their thought process is, “If they're not taking the change seriously, why should I?”

Communication is also very important. It’s critical to help people understand where the organization is going, why it’s choosing to go there, and why they should want to be a part of the journey. Change is uncomfortable, but culture change can be exhausting. It needs to be run like a marathon, with milestones along the way, and progress celebrated at every accomplishment. People need to feel reinvigorated along the path to success.

You also need to provide straight talk for people and not blow sunshine up their pants! People can tell a phony from a mile away. Be authentic, and deal with real challenge in a timely fashion. You need to show that you care deeply about changing the organization, and the impact this change has on the people.

There’s another old expression that says “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Do you genuinely care about the people being impacted by the change? Are you taking the time to engage them and bring them along for the ride? Do they feel like a key part of the parade, or merely spectators along the parade route?

What are you doing to change your company’s culture? What is working for you? What have you seen backfire? Let’s get the conversation started.

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Pubudu   Changing an Organization’s Culture   1/8/2013 2:07:13 AM
Re: Culture wave.
When trying to change a culture of an organization, first the employees look at their personal impact due to change. So automatically there will be a two teams within an organization who will like and who will not like the change, this is where we have to use effective and strong communication skills to overcome this situation.
batye   Changing an Organization’s Culture   1/1/2013 10:52:45 PM
Re: Culture wave.
agree, it good way for the Co... but this days - I'm sad to say Co. look at you as an orange... until you run out of juice... 

I do hope thing will change... but for now... it reality...
MDMConsult   Changing an Organization’s Culture   1/1/2013 1:37:19 AM
Re: Culture wave.
Soft skills, knowledge sharing, embracing change and collaboration bring many benefits which should be even more important to use such skills today in  collaborating. For management, creating an ideal work environment that cultivates such skills would be beneficial.
vnewman   Changing an Organization’s Culture   12/31/2012 11:16:19 PM
Re: Culture wave.
@nasimson - I think I can field this question: when change is mandated from the top of an organization it is usually viewed with suspicion and fear - fear of the unknown, fear of change.  But when there are people throughout the organiztion that support and embrace the change and others in the org can identify with and relate to them, it makes the proposed changes easier to stomach.  
kstaron   Changing an Organization’s Culture   12/30/2012 11:15:14 AM
Culture on a team level
I was lucky to be a part of a team who waschanging their culture. We were doing remote training solutions for clients and the higher ups thought it made sense that we needed to "walk the walk" by providing more opportunities for the employees to be remote. They started small with an employee working remote part of the time, then anoter employee with a family crisis that needed to move bnack home to help out worked remotedly from another state. Then another employee wanted to give his family the experience of living abroad, so for a year he worked from a small country in South America. We ended up having about 1/3 of the employees having some alternative work arrangement.

The neat thing was, it helped us do our jobs better, since we understood and lived the life we were promoting, we were solving our issues in house and were better equipped to help clients transform into a company that supported remote training and remote work. (And all the employees from other teams wanted to work on ours.)
Don K   Changing an Organization’s Culture   12/30/2012 12:53:57 AM
Re: Culture wave.
I dont think it will be easy to change an organization culture  at one go. For that you need all the support from your employees as well since they too play a major role in the organization and the culture matters them the most than for the employer.
Damian Romano   Changing an Organization’s Culture   12/28/2012 1:13:15 PM
Re: Culture wave.
@vnewman - I like the term 'informal leaders' because there are many of them. Sometimes organizations have things backwards for whatever the reason whereby the true leaders/innovators are mixed in with the rank and file and have a bigger influence than those on high. Proof positive that many organizations work more off a political management scheme than true talent.
Susan Nunziata   Changing an Organization’s Culture   12/28/2012 12:01:00 AM
Walk the talk
Congrats Larry on spearheading this ambitious effort at your organization. It sounds like your approach is spot on. I particularly like your message about the importance of senior management walk the talk. We I have seen change management fail it has most often been because upper management acted as if it were exempt from the changes that were needed.
nasimson   Changing an Organization’s Culture   12/27/2012 8:05:45 AM
Re: Culture wave.
@Sara: Can you elaborate as to how the organization is going to benefit from the suggestion given by vnewman? I mean in what ways.
Larry Bonfante   Changing an Organization’s Culture   12/27/2012 8:04:37 AM
Re: What's in it for X-Men
That is indeed the name of the team but no secret decoder rings ;-)
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