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Changing A Culture

April 9, 2010

I’ve walked into a number of situations over time where the culture needed to be changed. People simply weren’t into what they did anymore. I also find “How would you go about changing our culture” a frequent question in interviews.

My answer is simple: give them something to believe in. I’ve found that if employees really believe in what the company is trying to do the good ones engage.

I’ve also found that in most places the employees already know what needs to be done, even when they don’t. I’m sure you read that and thought what? If you talk to the employees they won’t be able to articulate what needs to be done, but when you ask them what they would change, you’ll most likely find a lot of commonality.

When you enter a new situation and you are expected to change the culture, there is a reason why the job was open. The most common reason is the management of the person before you. You’ll also find that their management fit one of two scenarios. First, and most likely is that they gave up trying. Nothing kills morale more than a leader that simply gave up. Second and almost as common, the last guy went nuts. This is the person that tried to the bitter end. You know what they say, if you keep doing the same thing and expect a different result…

If the person before you gave up and you paint a compelling vision and do it with passion, you’ll see the attitude change quickly. If you followed the second type of person it’s harder. Think of it like being the second husband of a wife that was abused by the first. The employees are ducking for cover before any words come out of your mouth. In this case you need to be supportive. It takes time to recover from this. If you need to do it quick, bring in a couple of helping hands and spread the load.

Culture change is not as hard as it seems, and it isn’t as touchy/feely as all the books make it out to be. Keep it simple, and you’ll be surprised. People want to contribute and feel good about what they do. Show them you care, give them a chance, and they’ll surprise you in a positive way.

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