Driving culture change is a leader-led model which requires specific skills for seeing it through.
All organizations experience periods of much-needed culture change in order to achieve the results they need to grow, compete and win. Changing or improving the culture of a company or team requires focus, accountability and consistency. And it must be led from the top. Without total and complete buy-in from the senior leadership team the desired culture will fail to be achieved.
Leaders either move actively through an organization or unconsciously. When an unconscious leader attempts to fake their way through culture change they will not create the necessary experiences required to instill the correct beliefs. Without the needed cultural beliefs, actions will not achieve results.
There is also a misconception that leaders driving significant culture change must be bold in nature, give inspirational speeches and take wild leaps at greatness. That is simply not true. They must be honest and sincere in their effort exhibiting true passion for change. They must take aggressive strides in mastering three critical culture change leadership skills. And most of the time the organization can’t wait for them to do so, it must be done in tandem with driving change. This requires a consistent and deliberate effort and places this ability within reach of leaders at all levels.
These three skills are: leading the change, responding to feedback, and having a facilitative communication style.
Leading the Change
Culture change initiatives are not something that can be delegated to Human Resources or any other department. This is a leader-led model which must start at the very top. Every experience a leader creates, communication they deliver and action they take will either support or undermine the effort. The senior leadership team must actively manage the process and make sure that it’s at the top of every manager’s priority list.
Some of the best practices leaders must own include: establishing accountability across the organization; defining the results needed from the culture change (what are we trying to accomplish?); developing a cultural beliefs statement (again, this shouldn’t belong to the marketing team); developing and communicating the case for change; and consistently ensuring alignment across the leadership team.
For leaders to master the ability to lead the change, it requires learning and practicing the tools, planning what to do and what to say, and internal and external coaching.
Responding to Feedback
Without the team there can be no leadership. During a change effort the team will scrutinize the leadership team more than ever. They will be hopeful for new change they have been craving for a long time, but they may also look for signs of potential failure.
Providing feedback focused on supporting the desired cultural beliefs and desired outcomes to team members is critical for success. But it goes both ways. Senior leaders must ask their reports, or anyone for that matter the question, “What feedback do you have for me?” Leaders must create a culture supportive of managing up and transparency.
Some leaders are good at taking constructive criticism and other are not. Responding with an excuse or dismissing the feedback as irrelevant or incorrect will foster beliefs about that leader’s willingness to change. In times of culture change, leaders must usually be the first to change the way they think and act.
Feedback will not always be accurate or grounded in reality but it is the leader’s duty to ask for it, as well as respond to it. Letting the team know that their voice is heard and what you are going to do to take action when necessary is the most important component to mastering responding to feedback.
Facilitative Communication Style
When I speak to organizations or perform workshops with their leadership teams, communication is always a key component. As a former Navy SEAL, we used to evangelize the saying “move, shoot and communicate.” We work in highly chaotic environments which require effective communication in order to adapt to change.
Leaders must not just ask for feedback every now and then but create organizational experiences that foster ongoing collaboration and communication. It doesn’t happen on its own. These experiences will empower the team and involve everyone in being accountable for driving the positive change forward.
Needed change is usually created through many internal and external environments. Either way, it can be scary for the team. It is up to the leadership to drive the change, ensure alignment, and see it through. It can have revolutionary effects to the bottom line when done right.