But often as the world and circumstances change, that long-ingrained culture also needs to change – and that’s no easy task.
“The challenge is that most people live every day without much thought to the patterns and habits that are guiding their daily business life, or even their general life,” says Andi Simon, a corporate anthropologist and author of On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights .
“In a corporate setting, leaders espouse values, beliefs and expectations so people know what to do and how to get it done. Everything is fine until something begins to change and that culture must change, too.”
Simon suggests any business facing the need for a culture change should try these six steps:
- Step 1: Ask what your culture is today. Simon suggests thinking about what you value in terms of six key areas: dominant characteristics; organizational leadership; management of employees; the glue that holds the organization together; strategic emphases; and criteria of success.
- Step 2: Ask what it should be tomorrow? Consider what you want your culture to become. Should it be less controlling and more empowering? More results oriented or more collegial? Do rules “rule” or are you open for new ideas and empowered staff members?
- Step 3: Tell a story. With you staff, tell a story about what the culture is today. “Let them all create a visualization of how you get things done now,” Simon says.
- Step 4: Visualize tomorrow. What will tomorrow’s culture feel like? How will you get things done? Will people be enabled to make decisions and risk making mistakes? “Frame this with stories,” Simon says. “They are how the brain takes data and makes sense out of it.”
- Step 5: Create pilot experiments. Through these experiments you can get people to see how the new culture is actually going to feel when they live it. “Set up some small win situations for your folks to test it out,” Simon says. “Think of this as if it is improvisation with good rehearsal time. You are asking people to change what they value, their beliefs and their behaviors. That’s not easy and it’s full of risk.”
- Step 6: Celebrate. People need symbols and they need to celebrate and share experiences. “You need to seriously think about which rituals you will no longer do and which new ones you will introduce,” Simon says. “Be careful, though. Things that didn’t seem important can be very sacred to people when you are taking them away.”
“When all is said and done, make sure you keep moving it forward,” Simon says. “People will typically tell you how they love something new and then quickly revert to the old habits even without knowing it.”
Andi Simon, author of On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights, is a corporate anthropologist, award-winning author and trained practitioner in Blue Ocean Strategy® (www.simonassociates.net ). She is the founder and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants, designed over a decade ago to help companies use the tools of anthropology to better adapt to changing times. Simon also is a public speaker and an Innovation Games facilitator and trainer. She served as a tenured professor of anthropology and American studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey, and was a visiting professor teaching entrepreneurship at Washington University in St. Louis. Simon has appeared on “Good Morning America” and has been featured in the Washington Post, Business Week and Forbes, and on Bloomberg Radio.