6 Things That Help Change Company Culture

Patrick Willer

Many companies have a huge gap between their culture and their strategy. And this problem only gets bigger in larger companies, especially when they are in transition. Management at all companies have a common reflex: Scream louder about goals and policies as the gap between culture and strategy widens.

This is pointless, because culture eats strategy for breakfast! Feelings and emotions trump rules and structures.

Yet we pay more attention to strategies than to culture.

That’s because changing a strategy is relatively simple. And changing a culture is extremely difficult: It takes perseverance; it takes willpower; and most important, it takes authenticity.
culture knocks out strategy

So here are six tips for successful change management:

1. Bring alignment to existence/purpose and feelings

Whatever your strategy is, your entire workforce needs to believe in it. There is no point in talking to the head when the heart is not listening. There is no point in communicating KPIs if employees don’t see the value of them. You need to involve your workforce and talk about the reason you have certain goals. Ultimately the workforce needs to consciously and voluntary adopt change.

I sometimes hear people say, “People don’t like change.” I don’t buy that. I think people do like change, but they do not like to be changed. There are many reasons why people resist change, but not changing is not an option either. So give employees every opportunity to embrace chance by making them an intrinsic and valued part of the change. Never enforce a change. Force can only negatively impact the feelings and thus bring you further from your goal of alignment.

It’s no problem if there are people who don’t like the change. The bigger the change, the bigger the potential shift in workforce needed to support the change. Some changes require different people.

2. Changing is unlearning

When organizations change, they often are afraid to lose clients. They will bet on both the old and the new. Multiple paradigms in an organization is no recommendation. Companies must say goodbye to their old ways. They need to unlearn, and unlearning is much more difficult than learning!

Focus on the new is focus on learning, which is the rational part; the strategy part. Focus on unlearning is focus on the emotional part; the behaviors. That requires much more energy, but without it, no strategy change will succeed. And to do it correctly, you have to identify what the “old” exactly is. That is what you have to unlearn.

3. Respect the change curve

The “old” had a purpose. It wasn’t wrong, but it changed to survive. Nobody wants a wired phone today, for example, but there was nothing wrong with a wired phone in the 20th century.

If there is a lot of change, there can be multiple layers of old and new. People used the old way to get the organization to where it is today. And their experience can be a fantastic source to enrich the “new.” That is something to respect.

Adapting to change differs per generation. A flawless execution of a new strategy requires an optimal composition of your workforce.

4. What about hierarchy and leadership?

People don’t need managers. They need leadership. Leaders show the way. Leaders walk the talk, which means being authentic. People see right through an unauthentic person, weak promises, or sophistry. Without leadership there is no change.

And you need more than leadership: You need champions and non-managers — people from all levels of your organization who take initiative and show how it’s done. These people are most valuable; they are the change agents. Give them all the room they need and the credit they deserve.

5. Reward positive results and behavior

Reward the people with the guts to experiment, the change agents who show change results. And make those results and rewards public.

Having no differentiation effectively rewards employees and managers who don’t change. That is extremely dissatisfying for your change agents and confusing to the entire workforce.

6. Celebrate!

Celebrate and have fun with every small step you make toward change. There are two reasons for this: First, who argues against having fun together? Second, if you mentally connect new behavior with celebration and fun, your mind will appreciate the new way of working.

Celebrating goes hand-in-hand with showing good results, which motivates people to work in the new way and get more connected and engaged. Events that can be celebrated (competitions, employee of the week, and milestones achieved) are great ways to say goodbye to old methods.

Conclusion: Focus on culture

Change management requires willpower, energy, and time. But it pays off! Companies with a strong change management strategy are 3.5 times more likely to enhance performance, according to Towers Watson.

Focus on culture, because it is one of the most important competitive advantages you can have. And there is only one way to do it: the authentic way!


Want more insight on how to implement HR strategies? See HR’s New Challenge: Shifting from Tactics to Strategy.


About Patrick Willer

Patrick Willer is a Workforce Innovation Consultant at SAP, responsible for helping organisations to maximize the effect of their workforce. In practice this comes down to discussing the clients strategy and evaluate together how technology can help the total workforce to execute the companies strategy.