Imagine ten people living on a small ship. To make sure that the ship runs well and everyone gets along and knows what they’re supposed to do, the captain of the ship has got to share what’s expected and how things are done based on the ships’ values and goals. The captain also has to lead by example. She/he will have to decide what the environment is going to be. Will it be a party ship? Will it be a place where visitors can drop by anytime they want? Will it be a quiet ship where people can study, sleep, relax and keep to themselves in their own quarters if they want? Can people on the ship play loud music and if they can, what time does it stop? Is it a team atmosphere? Is everyone encouraged to help each other out? Is everyone free to come and go without letting anyone know?
The need for steering
All of these things and more need to be defined. If they’re not, it’s simply a matter of time before things get out of control and/or conflicts happen. As Adam Bryant points out in his article in the New York Times called, How to Build a Successful Team,” You’ll need a set of values, behaviors and cultural guardrails so that everyone knows how to work together.” It’s the same scenario in a work environment. It’s critical that leaders and managers are there to steer the ship: Even more so, when the course changes and the culture is heading in another direction.
A leader’s role during cultural change
According to an article called, Change in the Workplace Stresses Your Employees Out the Most, by Chad Brooks at Businessdaily.com, “Change is quite common in most workplaces. Half of the U.S. workers surveyed have been, currently are or expect to be affected by organizational changes in the next year.” Many organizations have to change their culture to stay competitive and current. When that happens, the organization’s leaders and managers must lead by example and live that change. They’ve got to eat, drink and breathe the new culture and extend its reach throughout the organization until one day, its second nature to everyone in the business. As stated in a Harvard Business Review article called, The Role of a Manager Has to Change in Five Key Ways, by Joseph Pistrui and Dimo Dimov today’s managers have “to be people who love to learn and love to teach, who liberate and innovate, who include others in the process of thinking imaginatively, and who challenge everyone around them to create a better business and a better world.”
Keep in mind though that, as stated in an article on Inc.com called, 5 Powerful Ways to Help Your Employees to Cope with Change, written by Peter Economy, “Helping your employees overcome the anxiety that comes along with such changes can be very challenging.”
Tips for a smoother cultural change
But here are a few important tips to help managers and/or leaders to make the path smoother.
- Be prepared: Know exactly what has to be done in your organization to make the change from one culture to another. This only happens when a lot of work takes place beforehand to examine the current cultural state against the future culture and how every value, goal and process needs to change or not change, accordingly. If this isn’t crystal clear, employees will sense it and your organization does not want to lose employee trust at a time like this.
- Learn about the impact of change: Get guidance from change specialists on the fundamentals of change, how employees react to and get through change, and how to deal with roadblocks or areas of resistance.
- Communicate: Tell everyone in your organization (in face-to-face personal meetings) where you’re going and most importantly, why. What will be gained by this? Why this new culture was chosen. What’s the goal and what’s in it for every employee?
- Take it slow: Make sure that changes are gradual. Plan changes in stages. As the saying goes, “Slow and steady wins the race.” When too many changes happen too fast, it can cause employees to feel unstable and anxious.
- Collaborate: Invite employee involvement and new ideas to support the new way of doing things. Make everyone in the organization feel as though they’re participants in this cultural change so they’re more invested in the results.
- Reward: When employees apply the new cultural values and behaviours to their work, find ways to recognize their performance so everyone is encouraged to keep it up.
Leaders need to be fully prepared before cultural change
As noted in a Harvard Business Review article called, Don’t Just Tell Employees That Organizational Changes are Coming – Explain Why, by Morgan Galbraith, “Leaders not only need to be equipped with information and resources, but they need to feel confident leading through change,” and, “..how your leadership reacts to change will trickle down and impact your managers, who then impact your employees and their engagement.”
In other words, with the right leadership, employees can experience a renewed excitement about their work when the culture changes. Plus organizations can find a new pulse and a great reason to look forward to the future.