Why most teams fail to change their culture

When I go over my #linkedin feed, I’m flooded with posts about how companies need to change their culture and how people leave toxic environments. It looks like it’s a consensus, but still, so many companies fail to do that.

When we say Culture, what do we mean?

Most employees want a change. Ask them, and they’ll tell you how much it’s needed. Still, when the rubber hits the road, many teams and companies try and fail. Why?

It has to do with the definition of culture. Let examine the following description from FranklinCovey, one of the world leading companies in the space of leadership.

Company culture is the collective behavior of your people

Culture is behavior! It’s how most of the people behave most of the time. In that sense, a failure of culture is a failure of applying a particular behavior.

For example, assume a team has set a goal to change its culture to let all team members to be heard and to share the work of the high impact tasks, in other words, inclusion. Adopting inclusion is easy when the team meets its milestones, and the pressure to deliver is medium to low.

The Culture change trap

However, what happens when pressure is high? When swift action is required, or there is a high risk, you’ll miss the milestone? As the manager of the team, you have two choices:

  1. Decide on the fastest route to completion, putting your best employee on the job, manage it closely until the job is done. You lower the risk of missing the milestone.
  2. Discuss the situation with the team and let other team members finish the job, knowing they will grow and develop, but at high risk, you might miss the milestone and risk quality.

Which will you choose?

Culture change is hard

Many team leaders, managers, directors, and executives will choose to complete the task as fast as possible, putting the best of the best on the job, as they fear failure. They fear what their customers will say. They fear how their boss or the public will perceive them.

When you prioritize results over culture, you might win in the short term but lose in the long run.

Culture is measured when the stakes are high. When expectations challenge your values. If you genuinely commit to creating a culture change, you MUST adhere to it at all times, especially when things get tough! If you don’t, employees will lose trust in leadership. They will perceive the culture shift as a PR stunt but will not commit to it.

How to avoid the trap

You avoid the trap by anticipating the challenge. For each new value introduced, brainstorm tough situations where the behavior will be challenged. Describe it and commit to the right behavior. Then publish it! Let everyone in your company know how to behave when things are rough. Setting expectations and leading by example are the key to a significant cultural change.

Bottom line

Culture is the collective behaviors of your people. It is tested when the risk is high. The best way to drive a culture change is to set expectations on how to behave and to lead by example.

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