Four key factors for achieving culture results fast

Liz Stanley

We all know that changing an organisation’s culture is a long-term game, but a common challenge we hear from clients is how to demonstrate quick, tangible progress to justify the investment and keep senior leaders engaged. 

In a recent project with a global client we were able to demonstrate such significant, quantifiable progress in just 6 months that the CEO proclaimed it felt like working in a ‘completely different company’.  He also drew a direct link between the work on culture and a significantly improved business performance, including a whopping 164% increase in sales of one priority product, stating:

“We had a strong year…and I believe what contributed to this success is really how we worked to achieve things: our cultural focus to live our values and behaviours.”

We were also able to track the progress leaders made in role modelling the desired culture through individual assessments and retests.  The top 500 leaders received upward feedback using a quick and simple bespoke tool which assessed how effectively they were role modelling the desired behaviour.   220 of them took part in a retest 6-9 months later.  The results were unequivocal:

  • Scores had improved on 65% of the behaviours, with 100% of leaders improving in at least 1 behaviour.
  • More than half of leaders (56%) had improved on more than 10 behaviours.
  • 53% of leaders were being rated at the level of being a role model in more than 5 behaviours.

These dramatic improvements were further reinforced by the comparison of OCI (Human Synergistics’ Organizational Culture Inventory) data from 2015 and 2018. In particular, the scores on Perfectionistic had dropped from above the 95th to the 70th percentile, Dependence had dropped from the 71st to the 29th percentile and Humanistic Encouraging had increased from the 49th to the 79th percentile. 

How were we able to achieve such demonstrable progress so quickly?  Four key factors stand out: 

  1. The tight link between the cultural priorities and the business impact these would have, which made the tangible benefits clear to everyone and avoided the need to spend time persuading people why this was a good idea. Two priorities were picked, customer focus and prioritisation, and everyone could see how improving these would bring huge business benefits.  And indeed it did:  in the first year, sales of the two most important products increased by 53% and 164% as the organisation listened more effectively to customer needs, simplified and became better at focusing energy and resources where they could have most impact.    
  1. Our focus on behaviour change in the business context. Rather than work with leaders in workshop settings, divorced from their daily reality, our individual and team inventions were anchored very strongly in the business as usual meetings and conversations. This reinforced that culture is not something you do on top of your day job; rather, it is how you do your day job.   
  1. A data-driven approach, which directly addressed the root cause diagnostic findings and limiting beliefs about perfectionism, risk aversion and the need to do everything. Two sets of upward feedback gathered six months apart enabled us to pinpoint exactly which behaviours each individual leader needed to focus on.  
  1. Working systemically on behaviours, symbols and systems to ensure the culture change was sustainable. We focused on raising self-awareness, shifting individual and team behaviours and symbols, identifying and celebrating role models of the new culture, and identifying the big process changes that needed to occur to ensure the transformation was systemic.

The organisation is now on track for another year’s superlative performance.  They now have a deep expertise in how to change elements of their culture within a short time frame and so, as new business opportunities and challenges arise, they are able to respond more quickly and effectively to adapt behaviour.  They have also been able to add new dimensions to their cultural goals which support their emerging strategy.  Leaders have had personal experience of the benefits culture leadership can have on immediate short-term performance and, as a result, now focus continuously on both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of their business.


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