3 Strategies For Culture Change

In Leadership by Antwuan Malone

Leadership is hard.

There typically comes a time when change is upon you as a leader. Whether that change is from growth (Larry Osborne implores we never forget “growth changes everything” in his book “Sticky Teams”), a change in the psychograph of your constituency, a shift in the market, or an attempt to stay relevant and morph with the times, it’s coming.

Sometimes that change pushing at your door makes you go back to the essence of who you are as an organization. Apple did it when they began designing computers for the artistic creators instead of the corporate cubicle sitter. They did it again when they introduced the iPod and stepped into the music industry, and then yet again when they stepped into the smartphone industry with their iPhone.

In the process, Apple didn’t merely adjust their focus in the marketplace. They changed their entire culture. Who they were internally changed. And I’m not just talking branding. I mean the way they ran their company changed. The values they protected changed. The measures of success morphed. They changed the way they introduced themselves, the way they interacted with the public. They said “yes” and “no” to different things. They simplified. They did less. They did more.

The result: Apple many know and love today is not much like the Apple of 20 years ago.

Organizational culture does not happen by accident. Well, let me rephrase, good organizational change does not happen by accident. The best cultures, especially where growth is the driver for the change, are intentional. They are not products of chance and circumstance, rather they are driven toward. Worked for. Pursued.

If you are a leader, I’d like to propose three elements I believe are needed for a good strategy toward culture change.

The Leader Must Believe It’s Worth It

If the leader of the organization is not on board, division is the future. A company/ministry/tribe’s best best people are working/serving because they are in love with one of two factors: the leader or the mission.

In the best cases, these two reinforce each other. In the best case, the leaders embodies the missions in tangible and intangible ways. But if the two were pitted against each other, if folks have to choose one or the other, they will.

When the leader is not with the culture change, he/she makes people have to make a choice. They have to ask themselves, “Am I going to run after the leader, or run after the mission?” And everyone will not choose the same. Division is soon to follow. This could cause major regression in your efforts. Or worse, the division could lead to company/ministry/tribe implosion.

The leader must, must, be on board with the cultural change.

Be Ready For Casualties of Change

People don’t like change. In fact, the more successful you are, the more you grow, the more likely “culture” will be revisited and possibly adjusted or all out changed. Again, growth changes everything. The leader should know this, and should always be thinking about the “next level.” That’s their job. They can’t afford the linger in the “Wonder Years” of yesterday. But that’s so much easier said than done.

It’s true that yesterday brought you to today, but that doesn’t mean yesterday gets you to tomorrow.

Leadership will need to understand this, and work through all the emotional changes such thinking produces before communicating the new pathway. This will prepare them for the backlash (in the form of conversations, frustrations, and criticisms) from those who want things to stay the same forever.

It may sound silly, but if you want things to be different, that means that they can’t be the same. Leaders need to know that a change in culture will likely mean you lose some bonafide people, some bonafide benefits of the previous culture, and in some case, some respect from your peers. And they have to be okay with it.

Every change suffers casualties. Don’t let a beautiful history hold you hostage to a beautiful future. It’s possible to, both, acknowledge the path to today and inspire toward a change of course for the tomorrow. But expect to lose some things in the process.

Add and Multiply

You don’t have a change of culture if you don’t have a change in mindset in the people working/serving/attending your business/ministry/tribe. That change of mindset happens two ways.

The first is to multiply by re-educating the people who are already connected to your organization. This involves communicating new vision and metrics, celebrating outcomes that promote the new cultural elements, and creating opportunities and new “playgrounds” for development of  good cultural habits to be taught, practiced and reinforced.

Re-education takes a longer time, so leadership will need to be patient through the process (while remembering there will be casualties). Culture change is a long game. Don’t expect too many results too soon.

You can speed things up by adding a second strategy to the mix which involves adding new people who embody/understand your new cultural values. This will be tougher than it sounds.

An organization tends to attract who they are (Apple attracts different folks than Microsoft). Since you are in cultural flux, you’ll likely attract folks who embody your previous culture, which will create an interesting temptation to stay put. However, the more you bring folks who embody your “yesterday” into leadership, the longer your transition will take. When adding “new blood,” you should add those who embody your “future.”

This is not without problems either. These additions will present temporary chemistry issues, which could make it hard to keep them around. No one likes to feel like the oddball (culturally). You need to think through ways to keep these people engaged throughout your transition, and you need to create and implement ways to attract more “futures” to your business/ministry/tribe.

What are some of your thoughts/tips on how to pursue cultural change? I’m listening.

The following two tabs change content below.
Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.