Workplace culture, or ‘how we do things around here’ as it is often paraphrased, plays a huge role in the outcomes of your business. If your workplace culture is at odds with the expressed aims of the business there is likely to be resistance, frustration and lack of progress; getting your culture right is imperative for creating an innovative workplace. Changing an organisational culture can be notoriously tricky but here are some top tips for making a great start.
- Identify what your ideal culture looks like. All organisations have a culture, regardless of whether you consciously try to shape it or not. Identifying what your ideal culture would look and feel like will help you move towards it. For example, an innovative culture might promote new ideas, encourage discussion and learn from mistakes.
- Check for consistency of message. Psychologists have proven that when a person is presented with information that contradicts their existing beliefs, ideas, behaviour or values they feel uncomfortable and this drives them to change either their interpretation of the information or their behaviours. This is called Cognitive Dissonance Theory1. This means that you can encourage employees to behave differently by challenging their existing beliefs about the organisation through a powerful new vision for example. Be careful though as it can also cause employees to disregard powerful messages about the direction and aspirations for the organisation if they see leaders behaving in a way that contradicts this. Check that the messages you’re sharing about being innovative align with what employees are experiencing in their day to day working lives.
- Remember that culture has many different levels. Organisational culture exists on three levels2: On the most superficial level are the ‘artefacts’ the things you can see and hear within your organisation; the posters on the wall, the level of bureaucracy or the language used for example. Next is what people say they believe about the culture and organisation (Espoused beliefs) and finally, are the tacit assumptions people hold on an internal level that they may not even consciously be aware of. Aim to tackle each of these levels but start with the artefacts; choose innovative language, processes and environments, then give people reasons to believe that things are or can be different with evidence of innovation that is taking place.
- Don’t tell people you’re doing it! Employees (and some leaders) can feel anxious and resistant when you talk about culture change; this can stem from feelings that what has gone before is no longer valued or concern about being able to learn to behave in a different way. A more effective approach is to share a compelling vision for the future, role model desired behaviours and approaches, and coach employees to do things differently. When the workplace feels different and people can see visible differences to how things are done, they tend to then change their beliefs about the organisation on their own (cognitive dissonance in action!)
If you would like to hear how changing your organisational culture to a more enterprising one can build a more secure and sustainable business please contact Rebecca
- Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Schein, E.H. (1985) Organizational Culture and Leadership Jossey-Bass