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Keeping Culture Change Sustainable

By Kelly Pray

Organizational culture is a complex concept involving values, communication, leadership, processes and behavior. Changing organizational culture can seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re not sure where to start. In order to make changing organizational culture successful, it’s important to set yourself and your organization up to make it sustainable.

First and foremost: align strategy to the culture.

Ensure that the culture you are trying to promote enhances the ability to meet your organizational objectives. Align organizational values to best support the mission and vision of where you are headed. Prioritize projects and initiatives that are aligned with the cultural change you want to see.

Ensure your leaders are leading the way

Leaders must embrace and adopt the culture that is changing before expecting the organization to follow. Remember, each individual will be required to undergo behavioral change in order to create lasting organizational change. Culture change involves the sum of the parts of each individual embracing and adopting the change. Without leaders modeling key actions and behaviors and actively communicating these expectations to their employees, your changes will not be as sustainable.

Define key actions and behaviors

Culture can be a difficult concept to articulate throughout an organization. Oftentimes cultural descriptors such as “trusting,” or “collaborative” are thrown around – without the rigor of defining what these look like in actual practice. Define key actions and behaviors that you want to see in the culture change. If you want a trusting culture, define what that looks like. For example: leaders share financial updates to frontline staff, or feedback loops are established to ensure staff trust that their voices matter. Collaborative cultures may involve committee-driven decision making, multidisciplinary project teams or perhaps meetings where staff feel free to speak up.

Measure what success looks like and stick to it

What does success look like for your culture? In defining key actions and behaviors, how can you quantify success in achieving these outcomes? If you are looking for a more trusting culture, perhaps structure employee engagement surveys to reflect trust (for example: I feel safe to speak up in a meeting, even when I disagree with the team). In addition to employee engagement surveys, leverage project deliverables to best meet the needs of the culture you’re trying to accomplish. Scope high-priority projects to include an objective that matches defined actions and behaviors.

In order for cultural change to stick it must be reinforced. To reinforce these successes, adhere to what I like to refer to as the double-sided coin of accountability. How are you celebrating the success of your employees who are demonstrating actions and behaviors that match the new culture? Conversely, how will you hold them accountable if key actions or behaviors are missing from your ideal future state?

Change is successful when it is sustainable. Ensure organizational culture aligns with operational strategy, equip leaders to manage changing the culture with their teams, clearly define what the culture change looks like and hold individuals accountable for these successes. Be patient as you work through these approaches – organizational culture change often takes years to implement, and continual effort to reinforce.

Kelly Pray is the enterprise change management lead at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

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