Delivering rapid culture change

They say it takes years to change a culture. But what if you haven’t got years? What if you need to turn around performance in months and your culture is getting in your way?



Perhaps you need high-quality and rapid decision making in a complex problem-solving environment; but your unempowering, blame culture makes people slopey-shouldered resulting in decisions being made at glacial pace. What if customers are leaving and NPS scores are falling through the floor but your culture supports mediocrity and stifles innovation?

Follow these 5 golden rules to rapidly change your culture.

Gareth Southgate by Кирилл Венедиктов is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

1. You must recognise that culture is not a ‘soft’ subject

If for example your culture is unempowering, then this creates a productivity issue because decisions have to be escalated – which slows things down. A lack of empowerment is also a quality issue, because the decision might be escalated to someone who knows less about the situation than the person who raised the issue. Productivity and quality are not soft issues.

2. You must appreciate that culture = behaviour + infrastructure

Culture will be determined by the behaviour of others (particularly senior people). And it is also determined by processes and systems. For example, empowerment sounds like a behavioural issue; but there’s no point asking people to behave in an empowered/empowering way when the processes and protocols prevent them from doing so.

3. Don’t just put posters up

Putting the values and behaviours on posters might raise a bit of awareness. But if that’s all you’re doing, then you’re wasting your money on printing. You have to tackle behaviour and infrastructure head on.

4. You must apply positive and negative consequences for behavioural performance

In other words, you’ve got to mean it. If you say that these are the behaviours that everyone must use, then your performance management system must accurately measure people’s use of those behaviours. And then – and most importantly – you have to apply consequences for performance: good things will happen to you if you use the required behaviours; bad things or fewer good things will happen to you if you don’t.

5. Dedicated resource

The culture change programme must be led by a well-respected director that everyone recognises as a role model of the behaviours required. This senior level direction must be supported by high-quality, dedicated resource. Culture change cannot be delivered in the margins of the day job.