Much like the changing of the seasons, any kind of cultural transformation within an organization, doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. It looks different in different organizations and different teams. It takes commitment and hard work to change company culture and transform an organization and there are no shortcuts and no magic wands.
I have personally worked in the Transformation and Change Management space for more than 15 years now. I love the proliferation of HR Tech and just technology in general, as it enables us to do so many things, better than we used to. Depending on what products we use, we can gather actionable data in real time, enabling us to respond faster and more effectively to the changing needs of our employees. We can communicate more effectively and we can really improve the overall employer experience by freeing up time from repetitive, administrative tasks to focus on being more ‘human’.
But this isn’t happening.
More and more, I am coming across organizations who say all the right words and maybe have the best of intentions when it comes to transforming corporate culture and really putting their people first. But they are not willing to put in the time and/or the work to actually make it happen. Instead, they invest in HR Tech and sit back, expecting miracles.
HR Tech is a vehicle to help enable change and improve employee experience by providing actionable data and insights. It is not a magic wand that will cure your organization of all its ills.
You can gather as much data about your corporate culture or your levels of employee engagement, as you want. But unless you actually DO something with the data and actively work to change mindsets, beliefs and behaviours in your workplace, you’re dead in the water.
If you truly want to effect lasting organizational change, you need more than just HR Tech:
Have a Clear Vision
This is the most basic of leadership principles, so it is surprising that so many companies still get this aspect wrong when it comes to organizational transformation. What is the end goal for your company and your culture? What does it look and feel like? If you get it right, what will the benefits be for your company and for your people? If you don’t make the change or you don’t hit the targets you have set, what will happen? Be super clear on what kind of an organizational culture it is that you want to create. This vision of yours gives much needed purpose to the entire transformation project.
Have clarity on your Values
Your company’s core values form the foundation of absolutely everything. These values can be unpacked into behaviours that are acceptable at work and will provide guidance on what is not acceptable in your organizational culture. Values even provide a compass and a certain sense of morality and ethics when it comes to what is done in the company and also how it is done. It is the very lifeblood of all that you do and if you’re not ready to make some tough calls regarding non-values-congruent behaviour, you need a little more time before you pull the trigger on this transformation project.
You cannot say that ‘empathy’ or ‘putting people first’ is a core value or driving force within your company, but then you regularly expect your employees to work 14 hour days and you have managers who ignore the signs of burnout and deny leave requests because the ‘work is too important’.
Your values cannot just be words on a poster in reception. Your values have to guide behaviour, decision making and personal interaction within your company, else you’re on the wrong track.
Everyone has to be crystal clear about exactly what it is that your values mean and how these values are to be expressed and lived within the company. You also need to unpack and spell out what is not acceptable or not values-congruent and you need robust feedback and coaching mechanisms to effectively address unacceptable behaviour. If the feedback and coaching doesn’t successfully change the behaviour, you need to be ready to make some tough calls and let some people go because they are bad for your culture.
Lead the Charge
This is another very basic leadership lesson. People do not do what we tell them to do, they do what we do. So, from a leadership level — all the way from CEO down to first line supervisor or team leader — you have to model the behaviour you want to see. If you have set out to create a friendlier workplace, your leaders need to be friendlier and more approachable. If you have set the intention to be more collaborative or inclusive, all your leaders have to model this behaviour and quit having secret meetings behind closed doors and playing politics or ruling through fear.
You cannot simply ‘dump’ amazing HR Tech on your company and think it’s going to magically cure all the ills overnight. It took time for your culture to deteriorate. It took the work (or lack of action) of many, many line managers and leaders to create a crappy workplace culture. In order to change this effectively, you will have to embark on a full change management process and sensitize everyone on the need to change, the reasons for the changes and what behaviours need to change in the workplace. This involves communication, coaching, training and facilitation. It involves changing beliefs, behaviours and ways of working that may have been in place within your company for decades. It may require policy changes and huge amendments to the processes that are in use.
None of this happens overnight and none of it happens without a carefully planned and executed change management initiative.
The Golden Triangle
When working on any business intelligence (BI) or digital transformation project, we talk about the ‘golden triangle’ which consists of People, Process and Technology. We are usually introducing new technology into a business, but, in order for that technology to be effective, we need to integrate changes to process (ways of working, policies, procedures) and people (culture, behaviours, attitudes).
Technology is only one part of the puzzle and it will not — in and of itself — create lasting change or organizational transformation. In order to do that, we need to change the attitudes and behaviors that created a crappy workplace culture in the first place. We need patience, time, clarity and the dreaded ‘consequence management’ because not everyone will be able to successfully complete the transformation journey.
So let’s take a page from nature here. Organizational Change happens gradually. It is both beautiful and frustrating (think of the leaves falling and the constant raking and cleanup). Change means letting go of things which no longer serve you (in this case, behaviors, beliefs, attitudes, outdated policies, procedures and systems) and it means making space for something new and inspiring. And seeing your people grow and truly bloom and thrive, changes your entire organization in so many ways and it makes the whole journey entirely worth your while.