6 Steps to Transform Your Company Culture

Company culture can’t be rigid and unadaptable, or the company will fail. An outstanding company culture requires outstanding leadership, and changing the company culture requires leaders who recognize the real need for change, and who aren’t afraid of it. Outstanding leadership demonstrates maturity: conviction, diligence, focus, optimism, and the ability to handle uncertainty.

Leaders are able and willing to make positive changes to corporate culture to evolve with the times.

Immature leadership, by contrast, does not bode well for strong corporate culture. Lack of leadership skills, illegal or unethical behavior, or character flaws are common to immature or ineffective leaders. Character and honor are between difficult to impossible to recover once compromised, and the executive leader falls from grace from a particularly dangerous height.

Assuming your company has strong, mature leadership, transforming your company’s culture takes six critical steps.

1. Visualizing Success

To transform your company culture, you must be able to visualize in detail what the improved company culture will look and feel like. What desired behaviors will produce which positive changes?

2. Shooting for a Greater Pleasure-to-Pain Ratio

The new, positive behaviors associated with your transformed corporate culture, should be connected in your mind with having a greater pleasure-to-pain ratio than the behaviors associated with your organization’s past.

3. Remaining Positive

Optimism doesn’t have to be unrealistic to be relentless. The strong leader who can effect strong cultural change cultivates positive thinking and optimism. That doesn’t mean denial of problems, but confidence in the ability to deal with them.

4. Actually Taking Steps

There’s definitely a role for planning and defining in the cultural transformation process, but at some point you have to start taking those first steps. In physics, momentum is mass times velocity, and no matter how much of one you have, if you don’t have the other, you have nothing.

5. Recognizing and Dealing With Obstacles

Strong leaders must be open to feedback so that they can get a comprehensive view of what is going on in the company culture. This information should partly be used to identify roadblocks that impede progress so they can be surpassed with skill.

Strong leadership means being realistic and identifying potential problems.

6. Embracing Desire to Improve

Leaders, along with key employees, managers, and others must be able to understand and show humility and the desire to improve. This may involve the (sometimes tough) steps of asking for help and seeking feedback, and then paying attention, even if it’s painful at times.

The Decision to Be Vulnerable

We learn from mistakes, even while we regret making them. Ensuring mistakes don’t happen again is the key to your organization improving and evolving. It’s not easy to look in the mirror and examine our contributions to failures, but introspection is the first step toward learning from mistakes and strengthening bonds between leaders and teams.

Push the Talent Levers to Increase Cultural Value

What is your company’s cultural value proposition? Pushing the so-called talent levers in your organization helps ensure a thriving future. Here’s how:

  • Differentiating compensation and rewards accurately and fairly at all levels
  • Diligently measuring competencies at all levels, including future employees
  • Creating a learning environment with resources, tools and support that enable each individual to excel and contribute to the excellence of the overall organization
  • Carefully selecting and promoting leaders and future leaders who have the qualities necessary to create the corporate culture we want to have

Company Culture Isn’t Static

Corporate culture can’t be static and unyielding, because the world isn’t static and unyielding. But neither can transforming corporate culture be haphazard. Having a strong, thriving company culture requires leaders with strong character, and with optimism for what they do. They’re willing to monitor feedback, learn continually and adjust course as necessary. The seas of business are constantly shifting and are sometimes stormy. But the best leaders steer their corporate culture with wisdom and attention to prevailing conditions so goals are arrived at with the satisfaction of work well done.

As Abraham Lincoln said to Congress in 1862, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.” That is something true leaders of thriving corporate cultures understand and practice.


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Joel Pitney and Nick Vaidya are the authors of the new book Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention that explores the topic of company culture transformation in depth.

  • There’s a more human way to do business.

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