Creating Culture Shift by Dr. Gustavo Grodnitzky

Primary mechanisms in culture shift are highly visible and explicit.  They display leadership’s commitment and effort to create a shift in existing culture or establish a new culture around a strategic direction required for success in a changing business environment.  Primary mechanisms are actions intended to be understood by everyone as aligning the new culture around organizational strategy.

Secondary mechanisms in cultural shift are valuable because they signal the types of behavior and performance leaders want displayed in the culture being developed.  Secondary mechanisms serve as additional tools in a leader’s tool kit to create cultural shift. 

Primary culture shift mechanisms include (but are not limited to):

1.         Creating a clear Culture-Strategy Alignment:   It is a leader’s responsibility to ensure that the current culture aligns the chosen strategy or to shift the culture so that it does.  A culture-strategy alignment allows for adaptation while a culture-strategy misalignment makes adaptation and shift more difficult.  Even in periods of stability and economic growth, it remains critically important for leaders to attend to the prevailing culture.

2.         Creating a written Statement of Cause:  Written statements serve as benchmarks for judging company behaviors, policies, and individual conduct.  They have the advantage of explicitly stating the company’s position on ethical and moral issues.  A Cause statement should answer one of these two questions:  How does what your company does (your product or service), change the world or change human experience in the world?

3.         Aligning behavioral norms, policies and operating practices with strategy:  Behavioral norms, policies and practices that interfere with the execution of new strategies must be changed.  Meetings, budgets, reports, and performance reviews can all be used to emphasize important aspects of the new culture.

4.         Aligning rewards/incentives with performance:  Tying social rewards as well as compensation incentives to group, team, or organizational performance (rather than just individual performance) shapes culture because it gives the leader leverage to reward performance which is directly supportive or demonstrative of the new culture and strategy. 

5.         Replacing existing-culture members with new-members (if necessary):  Replacement of existing-culture members should only occur after they have been given ample opportunities to adapt to the new culture.  However, if they can not adapt to and/or support the new culture, existing-culture members should be “set free”. “Set free” means allowing existing-culture members to go be successful somewhere else.  While this can often be most challenging for leaders, this can be one of the strongest signals that leadership is committed to a new culture Additionally, leaders can also establish new criteria for recruiting, selecting, promoting, and “setting free” employees.

6.         Designing environments:  Leaders can design work environments to reflect the values they most want to promote in the new culture.  For example, common eating areas for all employees and no special parking areas are consistent with a culture which promotes equality among all employees.

Secondary culture shift mechanisms include (but are not limited to):

1.         Leader as role model:   Employees learn from their leaders what is truly valued in an organization by observing their leaders behaviors and the behaviors that leader rewards.  Alignment of the leader’s own behavior with his/her rhetoric is key to successful application of this mechanism.

2.         Ceremonies for high performance:  Leaders can create ceremonies to honor those employees who exemplify behaviors and performance that is desirable in the new culture.  These events tend to create a bonding experience for employees who can share in the success of others.

3.         Leadership presence:  Employees who are striving to create a new culture are often uplifted by a special appearance made by their leader to praise and reinforce their effort and success.  Ignoring these employees will tend to deflate their efforts to make change.

4.         Organizational Structure:  A decentralized structure in an organization can symbolize a leader’s confidence in individual performance and shared responsibility.  A more centralized structure can symbolize that only the leader knows what is best for the organization.

Keep cultivating your culture!

Dr. Gustavo Grodnitzky


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