The Secret To Culture Change is Quite Boring

March 15, 2020
Posted in Change
March 15, 2020 Jamie Notter

You know how sometimes you get this image in your head of how hard or painful something will be, and then when you finally face the challenge, you discover it’s not so bad? That huge thing you’ve been dreading for months, turns out to be just a regular thing, requiring regular effort.

This happens a lot in culture change. Conventional wisdom tells us that culture change is hard, takes years to accomplish, and will generate fierce resistance among employees. As is frequently the case, however, conventional wisdom is wrong. Yes, culture change requires significant effort, but it’s not that horrible thing you’ve been imagining it to be. When you get into it, you will discover that it is just a “regular thing, requiring regular effort.”

In our culture design projects, we help clients create a “culture alignment playbook.” The plays in this playbook are things they are going to change internally that will move their culture in the right direction (that is, in ways that make the organization and the employees more successful). Some of these plays can be a big deal—maybe you’ll want to implement a complete structural reorganization, or maybe you’ll decide to sell your office building and go completely virtual.

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But the big deal plays are, in reality, quite rare, and they represent a very small percentage of the overall change effort. Do you know what category most plays fall into? Process changes. That’s right, in order to change your culture, you’re going to spend a lot of your time doing the boring work of changing processes. You’ll change the way staff meetings are conducted, or the way budgets are created and reviewed, or how product lines are evaluated.

Again, some of these process changes may take a fair amount of effort. We frequently see clients realizing they need to completely revamp their process for on-boarding new employees, once they get clear on the culture patterns that have been creating friction internally. That requires rewriting a lot of documents and educating people in all departments about their role in the new process. But as much work as that is, it really is just “regular effort.”

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So don’t be afraid of culture change. If anything, you will need to prepare yourself to be a little bored as you dive into the process changes. But the sooner you get into this and start aligning culture with what makes people successful, the sooner you’ll see both the performance and employee engagement gains.


Photo by Chris Yang on Unsplash

Jamie Notter

Jamie is an author and growth strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders integrate culture, strategy, and execution to achieve breakthrough performance and impact. He brings twenty-five years of experience to his work designing culture-driven businesses, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is also the co-author of three books—Humanize, When Millennials Take Over, and The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement—and holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.
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