team cultureCulture change in government organizations has made headlines recently. The interim VA Chief, Robert McDonald, is committed to changing the culture there. “Trust has been compromised,” McDonald explained.
Lots of organizations have cultures that don’t serve well. For example, GM continues to announce massive automobile recalls for ignition problems that they’d documented for years. The recent airbag inflator recall has impacted 14 million vehicles from nearly a dozen manufacturers. The first documented incident occurred in 2004. The first recall wasn’t announced until this year.
The reality is that, if a team culture isn’t working well – if it doesn’t create employee engagement, WOW’ed customers, and high quality results – it needs to be changed.
Changing your team or department’s culture isn’t that complicated. There are a few important steps that are needed (like formalizing your team’s purpose and values) as a foundation*, then the leader’s role is one of role model and coach to ensure everyone aligns to the revised team purpose, values and behaviors, strategies, and goals.
Even with a proven process, great communication, consistent modeling and coaching of desired valued behaviors, etc., not everyone will align to your desired culture.
Some people will dig in their heels. They’ve “seen it all” and “heard it all.” And they’re not into it.
These long-time leaders and employees have been around for a decade (or more). They’ve lived through “reengineering,” “total quality management,” “seven habits,” “good to great,” and all the rest.
They’ve learned through experience that most of these initiatives don’t last. The initial enthusiasm wanes when the champions don’t see any traction on the new culture.
These old-timers don’t have to actively fight the initiative; that takes too much time and energy. All they have to do is nod their heads when the champion speaks – and then keep on doing what they’ve always been doing.
The new culture might sound vibrant and exciting, but the old-timers are fully committed to the old ways. They’re motivated – to keep things the same.

They’re not motivated to embrace the new practices and behaviors.

If the old-timers figure if they don’t change their behaviors, the culture change won’t likely take hold. The initiative will die.
Culture change isn’t easy. The champion is asking people to step away from time-honored practices. (It doesn’t matter if those practices don’t work well. They’re “the way we’ve always done it.”)
How can leaders inspire every member of their organization to embrace the new culture, to demonstrate desired values and behaviors and practices? These three approaches will help.
First, set the context. Tell everyone why you’re making this culture change. What is it about the industry, the marketplace, your customers, and/or the opportunity that demands a shift in the way your team or division operates? Tell the story and define the path towards the high performance, values aligned culture you require.
Second, define the new rules. Tell them what the new rules are. Clarify the team’s purpose, it’s reason for being today – from the perspective of your customers. Formalize performance standards by defining what an “A+” job looks like daily. Formalize values standards by defining values in observable, tangible, measurable terms. Explain that the rules apply to everyone in the company, top to bottom.
Third, align players, plans, decisions, and actions. Show them how to live these new expectations; model the new behaviors in every interaction. Teach them how to live these new rules through your new valued behaviors. Hold people accountable. Promptly recognize aligned effort & accomplishment. Promptly redirect mis-aligned activity. Keep at it, every day – celebrate, coach, refine.
Your resistors will have to choose: embrace the new direction – or separate themselves from your team, finding roles in other companies. Either way, you’re team or company will evolve.
* My latest book, The Culture Engine, outlines my proven framework for creating a safe, inspiring work environment. Learn more – and get a free sample chapter – here.
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