A lot has been written about organizational culture, but there is little consensus on what it actually is and how to change it. Two things we know for sure: organizational culture exists and it plays a crucial role in shaping behavior.
Why should we think about culture? Because your culture is how your organization does things. And how you do things is critical to your performance and success.
According to the Katzenbach Center, 96% of employees say some change to their organizational culture is needed, and 51% think their culture requires a major overhaul. So even if you’re comfortable, you probably should be thinking about how your organization’s culture impacts both goals and the quality-of-life for your employees.
How do you even begin to think about shifting something as seemingly monolithic as culture? First, you have to acknowledge that you’ll be experiencing three states:
- The current state defines who you are and where you have been successful. The current state is often comfortable, even if it needs a lot of work. It may not be ideal, but people know how to get around. They know the rules of engagement.
- The transition state is messy and disorganized. It forces prioritization and change, and it is emotionally charged. It’s disconcerting and people have to find new ways around.
- The future state is not fully defined. Even as you describe the future state, it’s still just a model. No one knows if it will really resemble the picture. People are both hopeful and fearful.
How you get to the future depends on your goals. But you also need to prepare for the “messy middle.”
Understanding culture change
About three years ago, OCLC embarked on an effort to shift our culture. Library requirements were changing, and we needed to evolve to serve our members and their communities. We wanted to be a culture characterized by speed, accountability and execution. We took the time to study the current culture, both its strengths and weaknesses. We rethought how to drive and sustain positive changes.
Our culture has been reshaped into a collaborative, technology-driven, high-energy organization. Because physical spaces can both reflect and shape culture, some of our changes are very visible. You can see some “before and after” pictures below, of our OCLC headquarters.
Remember: Culture is the “how” of your organization. Your spaces often reveal how people relate to each other, solve problems and interact. In our case, we wanted more options for staff interaction, more visible and useful technology resources and an emphasis on openness and movement. What do your organization’s spaces say about your culture?
Changing your culture
If you decide to change your organizational culture, keep this in mind: No matter how much everyone agrees and says yes—be ready for a bumpy ride. Change is stressful, even if it’s good change.
But take heart: Most people realize that in today’s world, change is essential. Here are three key things to remember as you move forward.
- Culture is shaped by values and beliefs. Think about the people you serve. Think about your purpose and how the culture in your organization, in your team, is reflecting that purpose and influencing what you do. How would someone describe you?
- Culture is reflected in people and behavior. Values and beliefs—even if they are not overtly expressed—are reflected in how people do things. If you want to test this, simply sit and watch your staff interact with users or each other for 15–30 minutes. How do they treat people? What is their behavior in a vague or unexpected situation?
- Culture is affected by what gets rewarded. This is more of a “holistic view” than a comment on salaries. What behavior, results and efforts are recognized as “good”? It could be a raise in pay, but it is often more subtle—tone, opportunity, projects, relationships, recognition.
Complex cultural changes are successful only if individuals change how they do their day-to-day work. Successful change in your organization will be the culmination of many individuals moving from their own current state to their own future state.
Because, in the end, cultures change one person at a time.
Question…How would you describe your organization’s culture? Let us know on Twitter with the hashtag #OCLCnext