What is Organizational Culture and How Do We Change It?

What is organizational culture

Organizational Culture has become somewhat of a buzz word.  We talk about healthy and unhealthy cultures, but we don’t really talk about how organizational cultures are formed, and what leads to them being either healthy or unhealthy. Creating a culture that meets the current and future needs of the organization and its employees, increases employee and customer retention, increases innovation and requires leaders to have an understanding of the definition of organizational culture, how it is formed, and what items need to be in place to create space for organizational change.   Today, we will review a definition of organizational culture and explore three general steps to creating/supporting organizational culture change.

“the culture of a group can now be defined as a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integratioAccording to Edgar Schein, “the culture of a group can be defined as a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”  In many organizations, organizational culture forms organically.  It truly is a response to what is going on that impacts the organization and it’s leaders and employees.  However, as many of us know, we can start to form habits that  can be unhealthy, and ultimately those unhealthy habits become ingrained as part of an unhealthy culture.  In many organizations these habits can be seen in ineffective communication strategies, in fighting, a lack of diversity and inclusion, and ultimately a high employee turnover rate and diminished customer base.  In many start up organizations, the cultural norms that served them well when they were small, do not translate well into scaling an organization for growth; therefore, an unhealthy organizational culture begins to form.  So what are we supposed to do as leaders to make sure we are creating a healthy organizational culture?

The first step to beginning a culture change, or outlining an intentional culture, is to clearly define the specific problem you would like to change and create specific new behavioral goals.  Just stating that you are implementing a culture change initiative is not enough.  It is difficult for employees and leadership to buy in to an effort that is not clearly defined.  You will get questions like, “Why are we changing the culture? It works well for me!  People should just do there jobs.  Oh boy, here we go again with another initiative that doesn’t really do anything.”  When you clearly define the problem you want to address and change, it is much easier to increase buy in, establish SMART goals, and follow through with metrics to support the work.  An example of specific behavioral goals to address the lack of engaged and inclusive culture could be developing a more global mindset, increasing the diversity of the leadership body, increasing employee engagement, and/or increasing employee retention.

We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.- archilochusThe second step to effect change in an organization is to introduce specific training and expectations to the organization.  If you have ever tried to make personal changes, such as eating healthy or exercising regularly, you know that it can be a challenge.  In the beginning, we are resistant to the idea even though we know in the long run we will be healthier, happier, and more productive.  The same holds true in organizations.  Employees and leadership have to identify the changes they need to make and begin implementing strategies for change.  One of the most important elements to this change process is training.  Training allows cognitive redefinition through identification with leadership role models, a new understanding of roles and expectations, and an alignment with personal and organizational values.  When working with adults, it is extremely important that they be involved in the training and learning process.  Adult learners are more likely to work for goals when they have been included in the learning process.  It will also increase internalization and buy in of the behavioral change being outlined in the learning process.

The third step to organizational change is reinforcing the positive effect of new behaviors and confirming the data supporting change initiative.  This is where leaders and consultants need to be very proactive in tracking change metrics because they will reinforce to stakeholders that the effort is working, and positive changes are being made.  This allows the new behaviors, values, and beliefs to stabilize and become institutionalized in the organization.   Providing accountability mechanisms, coaches, mentors, and peer to peer learning groups allows stakeholders to reinforce their training and reinforce the positive changes through relationships.  It is important to provide these support mechanisms because it allows the stakeholders to work through problems and questions they may encounter within a supportive framework, which upholds the values and goals of the change initiative, especially when encountering struggles where the default is strong.

The final step for organizational change is to create organizational structures that support the behaviors and values of the change initiative.  This could mean implementing a new review process, creating institutionalized group learning processes, developing inclusive on boarding processes, and creating value based evaluation systems.  It is important to create mechanisms that support positive workplace culture, and create opportunities to continually evaluate the organizational culture and to create space for changes as the organization grows and adapts to meet the needs of all stakeholders.  Organizational culture is dynamic, so creating support and adaptation mechanisms allow the organization to support employees and customers, all while building social capital and establishing future readiness.

Organizational culture is a powerful force.  It can make or break your organization.   Creating a positive organizational culture inspires all stakeholders to work not only for the organization at the present time, but it also inspires employees and leaders to work for the future.  You are creating a reason to work that is more than a task, it is a purpose that takes into account the needs of all stakeholders; including, leadership, employees, customers, vendors, and the community.  We have just been through a very general overview of organizational culture and change.  If you would like more information on organizational culture and change within your organization, please contact ITL Systems.




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