Canada Association of Tourism Employees

How To Information Your Office Cultural Transformation [Case Studies]

Multi-stage, mutually reinforcing cultural change

As you seek to transform your company’s culture, let these practical lessons learned from over two decades of working with customers guide you.

Lesson 1: You need a vision and a plan

Culture is a complex network that connects stories, images, systems and behaviors. To transform culture, you need both a vision to steer and a multi-step change plan with interlocking, mutually reinforcing layers.

The elements of a successful change program include:

  • A clear vision of the new culture – where you are going and why
  • Clear messaging with pictures and words broadcast multiple times over multiple channels
  • Alignment of systems to new cultural values
  • Change champions and / or trained moderators embedded in the organization
  • Employee training to support new behaviors
  • Feedback loops to track results and adjust course as needed

Developing a change management plan begins with asking questions. This helps you gather information and think things through. You communicate with important stakeholders, recruit change champions and measure the scope of the effort so that you can budget time, personnel and money accordingly. A good change management plan is essential to coordinate efforts throughout the implementation.

Here is a communication plan template – one aspect of a complete change management plan.

Lesson 2: Tell a story

Most cultural change initiatives are motivated by the desire for better performance outcomes. Organizations typically set performance outcomes as goals: higher productivity, higher customer loyalty, more diversity. Goals are necessary to measure progress and performance, for work planning, for project and business management.

But to inspire employees to strive for these goals and to empower them within the framework of cultural values, there is nothing like a strong story.

But to inspire employees to strive for these goals and to empower them within the framework of cultural values, there is nothing like a strong story.

Stories offer:

  • Dense meaning and symbolism
  • Emotional response
  • Heroes and heroines with whom one can identify
  • Define moments of failure and success and draw lessons
  • Embedded values ​​conveyed by the decisions of the protagonists and by who and what are celebrated

Stories give us collecting points, a common identity, a sense of belonging. A single powerful story provides a rich central resource for all communication on cultural transformation, both visual and verbal.

An existing story can be retold with a different focus to build a bridge between the old and the new culture. Origin stories are great candidates for this. While the events stay the same, the emphasis can be updated, from the person being recorded, to the values ​​being celebrated and what that means for the next step.

To illustrate the power of history, here’s a sneak peek at how our focus on history evolved while creating a promotional item for a wonderful nonprofit social motion skill.

Lesson 3: Update Your Systems to Make Culture Change Real and believable

People love a good story. But employees are naturally skeptical of nature initiatives that only talk. To make your new culture a reality, it needs to be reflected in organizational systems – especially systems that involve money and recognition. At the employee level, this means recruiting, compensation, career development and advancement. At the organizational level, this means budget allocation, investments, acquisitions and disposals.

However, alignment can be difficult. For example, when a global energy company introduced a security system, it combined performance awards with the new zero tolerance policy. The stated intention was to reward oil rig managers and their teams for each quarter and year without a safety incident. However, this put enormous pressure on all employees not to report security incidents. This fueled the employees’ perception that reporting was about the appearance, not improvement, and certainly not about employee wellbeing.

Credible system changes must produce the intended effects, and not just sound good. Include people from the affected group in any system redesign and set up a feedback loop to improve it after implementation.

Lesson 4: Get Specific … Really Specific

Business performance is the accumulation of decisions and behaviors of individual employees. To fully achieve the desired performance results, we need to reduce change to the individual and team level. To do this, employees need answers to this question: “What should I do differently and how do I do it?”

Most cultural changes require people to work together differently. Teammates learn together with team-based experiential learning. You experience the desired behavior and the positive results and build trust in the change and in each other. This approach is very effective for embedding transformative change at the individual and team level. Learn more about experiential learning to transform teams here.

For example, many companies want to promote diversity, equity and inclusion beyond raising employee awareness and improving diversity in hiring, but do not know how to improve the daily work experience of employees. To achieve this, employees need:

  • Explicit group norms at team level (agreement on how they will work together)
  • Knowledge and skills for new behaviors
  • Techniques and step-by-step instructions
  • Models to represent the new behaviors in action (moderators, scenarios)
  • Practice with teammates

Here’s more on how you can use all of these elements in an interlocking, mutually reinforcing system to move diversity, equity, and inclusion from concept to habit.

Lesson 5: Everyone Has Culture

Leaders shape culture, but they don’t own it. Culture is inherently social. It will only be feasible if many employees in a company have it in common.

People adopt culture when they feel connected to it, especially when they actively participate in driving it forward. Encourage employee participation from day one. For our customers, we recommend that a key message to include in their communication plan is “What can you do?” Give people concrete steps to take, connections to make, resources to learn from – active ways they can be part of change and make a difference.

You will know that cultural change is bogged down when you hear someone say to a new recruit, “This is how we do things here” or “That is who we are,” and they mean it.

When the opposite happens – when you discover discrepancies between the culture you are aiming for and what the employees say – this is valuable information to optimize your change efforts. Systematically look for such discrepancies using feedback loops such as surveys, focus groups, and informal conversations.

Lesson 6: Getting Outside Perspectives and Support

Like goldfish in their bowl, people swim in culture without thinking about it, usually without even seeing it. This invisibility makes daily life easier, but it makes it extremely difficult to change your own culture inside the fishbowl.

An outside perspective can help.

Insiders bring a deep knowledge of the current culture, including points of pride and sensitivity and what might resonate with the staff. This is critical to bridging the culture that was to the culture that will be.

Outsiders bring observations and question assumptions that may be invisible (or sacred) to insiders. An outside consultant should also provide insights and experience of cultural change as a process, tools to support successful change, and expertise to develop effective communication and training programs.

A strong change team will include both insiders and outsiders to identify many perspectives and create the most informed, appropriate, and ultimately successful plans and outcomes for culture transformation.

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