The culture of a company is made up of unspoken norms. Some companies have great, inclusive cultures where people are free to express themselves and enjoy working together. Others are more old fashioned and less open to expression or even collaboration.
How do you know what the company culture will be like before you accept a new role? You’ll want to ask a lot of questions about what people do and why and how in order to assess.
Why does company culture need change?
There are many reasons a culture might need to change. It could be due to a leadership change or even an issue with recruiting and hiring the talent needed to support the business. If employee turnover is high but compensation levels are competitive with the job market, company leadership might want to figure out if there's an issue with the company culture.
If the company has outdated cultural norms, like not allowing flexible scheduling or remote work, that could be another sign that a company culture needs to evolve.
Culture is a key differentiator in a competitive job market, and making sure the company is a place where the best people want to work should be a priority for employers.
What does culture change look like?
Culture change can look very different depending on the size of the company or department that is trying to change. Some department level changes can be quick and relatively easy, whereas changes to an organization that may include thousands of people could be more subtle or take longer.
It could also look like hiring more women, minorities or a range of ages if your company is aiming for a more inclusive culture.
How do you change the culture of a company?
1. Define what you want the culture to look like.
If you're working to change the culture of your company, you can’t do it alone. The whole team should have some input into what the new and improved culture should look like.
2. Align with strategies and processes.
Ask what steps can you take to get where you want to be. This could be creating or changing policies, adding steps to the recruiting process or even removing team members who are not positively contributing to the culture.
3. Decide who's responsible for helping to make this change — and hold them accountable.
While senior leaders should ultimately be responsible for the culture of the company, everyone can have a role. For example, if one of the changes that you’re looking to make is requiring that everyone take two weeks of vacation, it should be a checkbox come annual review time. If you haven’t taken your two weeks' vacation, your manager should work with you to schedule some time off.
4. Set up systems to measure change.
While there may be some anecdotal evidence that the culture is changing, you also want to get some more formal data. This can include surveying employees, tracking interview and hiring data to ensure that you are interviewing AND hiring more diverse candidates or tracking vacation or hours worked to ensure the team is moving toward a more sustainable work-life balance.
5. Communicate wins and losses.
Make sure company leadership and the entire team have an appropriate understanding of how things are going — and where there's room for improvement. If you’re having trouble recruiting for specific roles, you might want to ask the entire company to help you find more diverse candidates. Provide an incentive or finder’s fee to incentivize participation.
6. Invest in change — financially and with resources.
Just talking about change and telling people they need to do it will only get you so far. If you’re looking to hire more diverse leadership for the company, you can’t just fling a job posting out into the world and hope people apply. You want to target the people you want to see apply. This may involve spending some money to speak at an industry event, hosting your own events or even traveling to meet new talent. If you are trying to change a culture of overwork, you may need to invest in an assistant or new team member to help balance the workload.
7. Look for and create advocates for change.
Change can be hard for people, even “good” change. Find the people in your organization who are excited about change and ask them to help champion it. Their excitement will be contagious and encourage the rest of the organization get behind it.
8. Keep working through the changes.
You may have setbacks or make mistakes along the way. That’s totally to be expected. Change can be hard for people, and old habits can be especially difficult to break. Keep your focus on the things that are going right, and learn from any missteps. If there's a big setback, schedule meetings with those impacted to talk about what happened and ask for their opinion on how to best move forward. Let’s say, for example, you made a bad hire who made the culture in one department turn toxic. After removing this person from the team, the team lead and HR manager could host a meeting with those left behind to discuss next steps. This could include temporary plans for that person’s workload as well as refining the job description and requirements for that role. Finally, the team may ask to take a more active role in interviews for the next candidates for this position.
How long does it take to change company culture?
It can take a long time for the culture to really change, and it requires a lot of hard work along the way. You may feel discouraged if you don’t see results quickly. Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.
In order to keep change moving in the right direction, celebrate small victories along the way. For example, if you're working to build a more diverse team, you can celebrate interviewing more diverse candidates for an open role or making a diverse hire. You just have to keep taking small steps in the right direction.