Changing the culture of an organization is extremely difficult, and it is not something that can be done with a new logo, a purpose statement, a white board session, and a few media slides. In fact, Tom Peters has accurately stated, “It is easier to kill an organization than it is to change it.” And many leaders have done just that as they have implemented change haphazardly.
Changing practices or strategies is one thing, but driving those new practices into a new culture is quite another. And changes in practice do not last if they are not used to help create a new culture and are not grounded in that culture. John Kotter has written, “Changes can come undone, even after years of effort, because the new approaches haven’t been anchored firmly in group norms and values.” This challenging paradox points to the power of organizational culture. The culture cannot be changed easily, but it must be changed or a new philosophy and vision will be swallowed by the old culture.
So what are some practical things leaders can do to create a new culture?
1. Identify affirmable values
Even in an organizational culture where change is necessary, there are values that are affirmable. Identify the values beneath the surface that you want to remain, values that are essential and praiseworthy. Questions to consider are: What values existed when the ministry or organization started? What values drive the behaviors you want to see continue?
2. Celebrate and communicate values
As you uncover values in a culture, you will find values beneath the surface that are unhealthy. Starve these. Celebrate and feed the healthy ones. You feed a value by communicating it, by telling stories of how a value is lived out, and by pointing to heroes in the culture who display it. Plato said, “What is celebrated is cultivated.” You can cultivate values and culture by celebrating the right things.
3. Personally live values
A leader’s life is a stronger message than a leader’s words. If you want values to take root in your culture, they must be visible in your life.
4. Align actions to values
Regularly look at organizational activity and behavior through the lens of your values, and seek to align all the actions to the values you long for in your culture. Jim Collins wisely wrote:
Executives spend too much time drafting, wordsmithing, and redrafting vision statements, mission statements, values statements, purpose statements, aspiration statements, and so on. They spend nowhere near enough time trying to align their organizations with the values and visions already in place.