Organizational Culture: When and How Do We Change It?

A university’s culture is different from a non-profit organization and a for-profit corporation. A non-profit organization, for example, tends to be laid back in the office with the focus primarily on its groundwork. They are passionate about helping others and committed to staying true to the goals of the organization. A for-profit corporation is quite different. It can be too formal and strict with its policies. At the same time, it focuses on setting and achieving its financial goals.

The organizational culture is the personality of the company. It is based on the office design, furniture, and the values and norms in the office. But more importantly, it is about the people who make it what it is—a company of competent, able, and skillful workers who give their all every single day they come in for work.

Culture is not a mushy subject to talk about in terms of a business succeeding. Building and strengthening a company’s culture are actually harder than growing the more tangible aspects of the business such as sales. Why? It’s because culture starts from the top. If the business owners and managers do not accept the changes that have to be done, the workers will follow suit. Why will they make changes to a company whose primary stakeholders don’t even care?

Leadership

Without the leadership of the primary stakeholders—owners and managers—the workers will build their own culture with nary a thought to the company’s goals and values. Take the example of CEO Neo Kian Hong of Singapore’s metro rail system (SMRT). When he took over the position, he made strategic changes such as going down to the railroad himself to talk with the workers and giving up his car to take the train and mingle with passengers.

Soon, this kind of leadership is reflected by every person on the payroll. They will show commitment to their jobs the same way that Mr. Neo has shown commitment to his role. The culture of excellence, then, starts from the top and trickles down to the last man on the payroll.

people huddling

When to Change Culture

Defining when exactly should you change the organizational culture is complex. After all, many companies are still walking through a traditional and inflexible system where authority and obedience are valued more than collaboration, feedback, and human relationships. So, the sign that an organization needs change is when they valorize authority more than shared control.

Under such circumstances, you need to build an organic system where trust, human relationships, and responsibilities are more important than who has the upper hand. This kind of system is more open to change. Plus, it fosters the belief that the organization values its people.

Changing Organizational Culture

The crux of the matter is how to change the culture in an organization. Where do you start? How do you convince people to change their tracks?

First, you have to make sure that your people are on the same page. Do they also believe that an overhaul of the office culture is needed? Are you in the same boat? Identify the actionable behaviors that you expect to see from your employees. These behaviors should reflect the culture that you want to create. It should be visible from the executives to the middle managers to the maintenance personnel.

Second, you need to align the said culture with the business strategy and processes. This is especially important in the human resource department. What are they looking for in new candidates? When they assess the qualifications of a candidate, do they look at the soft skills—communication, teamwork, and trustworthiness—or do they only focus on the technical skills?

Third, everyone in the company has to be accountable. It is impossible to build a good organizational culture if people are not accountable for their actions. Again, this starts at the top. If they see their leaders running away from responsibilities and turning their backs on the mistakes that they made, then that’s going to trickle down to the office staff.

Finally, don’t rush it. Changing the organizational culture can take months and even years. It doesn’t happen overnight. Make sure there’s a rationale as to why the company should change. The workers should also understand what they are trying to achieve by following the standards you set.

Organizational culture is an investment. You are investing in the personality and character of your business in the hopes that this will bring success to the company. This, perhaps, is the most important investment you can make in your business.

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