10 Culture Change Ideas to Create a Better Company

You can change your habits. You can also change your workplace culture. Pick a change and then get to work on making it happen.

Your company’s workplace culture has a tremendous influence on what gets done and how that work happens. Culture is a collection of beliefs and values that shape behaviors.

Cultures develop over time. Often they reflect the values and behaviors of owners or senior leaders.

All companies have a culture. Talk to people inside the company about “how things work around here” or “the kinds of behaviors that get rewarded,” and you will quickly get a sense of the culture’s prevailing characteristics.

Culture is a Collection of Individual Habits

Sometimes it helps me think about culture by relating it to individual habits. They’ve developed over time. Some help. Others hurt. We may be more or less aware of what our habits are. Those that are invisible to us are often the most problematic.

Culture is the same way. Your company, division, or department may operate in a manner that in the best case is holding it back from achieving success and in the worst case creating major problems. The characteristic may be obvious or it may be somewhat hidden and not well-understood.

Cultures Can Change

It’s not easy, but individuals can and do change their habits. Cultures can change too.

Sometimes they change when there’s a new leader. Over time, employees catch on that the leader has a different set of expectations and slowly change their behaviors to meet those expectations. Most of us understand the benefits that come along with staying on the boss’s good side.

Another way is when leaders identify cultural characteristics they want to purposefully change and set about doing exactly that. Often, the change needs to happen quickly to keep up with market or regulatory forces or to respond to a developing crisis.

The change might be about making a positive behavior part of the culture. It might also be about eliminating a problematic behavior. The most transformative cultural changes do both, replacing an undesirable characteristic with one that’s positive.

Ideas for Your Culture Change

Let’s say 2020 is the perfect time for you to do some culture work. Step one is to identify the change you want to make. What’s on your culture wish list? If you already some ideas, select the one that will have the most meaningful impact, and then get busy.

If you need ideas, I’ve got 10 possibilities I’m thinking about today. Check them out and see if any are worthy candidates for your 2020 culture change initiative. Once you’ve figured it out, contact me to discuss how to go about this effort.

1. Data-driven

Perhaps your organization is filled with slicksters, who can talk anyone into anything. They have opinions and arguments, but rarely have any evidence to back up the case they are trying to make.

It seems to you that the organization’s decision-making batting average is awfully low, but again, have no way of knowing for sure because there isn’t any decision-quality measurement happening. You’d like the organization to do more measurement and analysis prior to reaching conclusions and taking action.

2. Customer-focused

Everyone in your organization serves someone. It might be external customers who pay the bills or internal customers who play some role in the value chain.

There are too many days when it seems that employees have forgotten the reason the enterprise and their jobs exist: To serve customers. That means figuring out who those customers are, identifying their wants and needs, and bending over backwards to serve them better than your competitors.

You want to build an organization who puts customers front and center on every decision.

3. Proactive

Your existing culture loves heroes, people who run into burning buildings and somehow manage to save the day. The problem is that there are too many fires, and suspect it’s because all your incentives are focused on emergency response.

Maybe it’s time to create a culture that values prevention. This means taking action before it rises to an emergency. It means creating plans, including contingency plans. It’s about doing the work of keeping drama at a minimum. It’s not glamorous, but it will have a positive impact on stress levels and your bottom line.

4. Responsible

Defined roles and responsibilities are good. Sometimes people need to step out of their defined role and take responsibility. When too many people act like, “It’s not my job,” it’s time to make responsibility a center-piece of your organization’s culture.

Imagine an organization in which employees stop worrying so much about what others are or aren’t doing and instead figure out what they can do in the moment and then do it.

Customers don’t care who’s job it is. As far as they’re concerned, anyone wearing the company’s badge can and should take responsibility.

5. Action-oriented

Some organizations have too many talkers and not enough doers. They are great at having meetings. The trouble is that meetings don’t produce results. Actions do.

A reasonable amount of thoughtfulness and planning help, but at some point you need a whole lot more people willing to act. You recognize there might be more mistakes. You’re cool with that because in your view, action trumps perfection.

6. Transparent

Closed doors and secrecy create the perfect environment in which to grow rumors and maybe a few destructive conspiracy theories.

Imagine flipping the culture on its head. Instead of having to make a case for why we should let people know, we instead put the burden on people with the instincts to keep secrets.

Start with the presumption that everything should be transparent to everyone. Allow that to happen only after making a compelling case for keeping people in the dark.

There was a day when more information types were thought best to be kept secret. Expectations about transparency have changed. Your organization needs to change with those expectations.

7. Assertive

This one’s a game-changer. Assertiveness is telling people what needs to be said in a manner that’s direct, honest, and respectful.

Think about how how many problems go unaddressed because people don’t raise their concerns (Passive). Then there are all those fights because people just blast away with every thought swirling around in their brains (Aggressive). Back-biting, gossip, eye rolls, undermining, coalition building are all unproductive activities that result from passive-aggressive behavior.

Make 2020 the year when those three are replaced with assertiveness, and then watch your organization come to life.

8. Process-minded

When efficiency is in the dumps because employees all do the work however they want, it’s time to start emphasizing the value of processes, standards, and procedures.

This cultural norm is one that should be particularly attractive to newer, fast-growth organizations. They are all about making stuff happen and doing it fast. The problem is that this culture usually creates chaos and a whole lot of wasted time and effort.

Helping people see the value in process will be an uphill battle. You’re sure to hear complaints about slowing things down and stifling creativity. The complaints might even be valid.

You simply need to be ready to explain the benefits that more focus on process can bring the organization.

9. Improvisational

This contradicts the process-minded option, but it’s meant for a different organization.

Maybe your organization is way too buttoned-down. There is a procedure for every single thing a person might do. The problem is that the world comes up with unanticipated problems for which there is no procedure. And that when people get stuck.

Maybe in your world this happens quite a lot. You don’t need to ditch your processes, but you have to teach employees that sometimes they have to wing it.

An added bonus to bringing this behavior into your organization is that someone’s improv might be the prototype for a highly-profitable innovation.

10. Respectful

You have an organization that gets a lot of stuff done. You hit the goals, knock out the projects, and keep customers happy. The problem is it’s a tough place to work.

The prevailing attitude is “It’s not supposed to be fun. That’s why they call it work.” People also like to say, “It’s not personal. It’s just business.”

I’m guessing it will be pretty hard to convince people to change their ways when by all reasonable measures the organization succeeds.

Still, wouldn’t be cool if you could meet all the goals AND create an environment in which everyone feels treated with kindness and respect? If you need to make the case, check your turnover stats.

Go To Work

Changing the culture takes a plan, persistence, and a whole lot of patience. Like all successful change initiatives it will require a compelling reason for the change, involvement by many employees, continuous two-way communication, flexibility, and a realignment of incentives. In other words, there will be a lot of work to do.

I can help by providing advice, but also another set of hands who can do the work. I’d love to hear which cultural characteristic you want to change and then work with you to build and implement a plan to make that happen.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce is a speaker, consultant, writer, facilitator and coach. Since 1996 he's helped workplace teams improve performance.