Four Steps to Changing Corporate Culture

Corporate culture doesn’t change overnight, just as it was not built overnight. It is not always an easy process, but by looking at the thousands of firms that have gone before us we can identify a systematic process that yields success through a cultural change. That systematic process can be broken down into four easy-to-understand steps that will allow you to take control of your cultural change:

Step 1 – Educate and Encourage

Education and encouragement are the foundational step of any cultural change.  Without the knowledge of how to succeed in a new culture it will be impossible for employees to move towards that new culture.  As an example I am going to focus on changing corporate culture toward a culture that embraces Rainmaking.  Under this example, the first thing people need to know is how to “make rain” or how to bring work in the door.  This will require training in areas such as networking and business development. During and after training it is important to encourage employees to try out their newly acquired skills.  Through this process you will begin an ongoing process of training and raising up a company that embraces the new culture.
Step 2 – Define Expectations

The second step in changing a corporate culture is defining expectations. This should not be done in the context of threatening or coercion, but rather by clearly identifying what is expected of employees in the company.  Note the emphasis on individuals in each step; changing corporate culture is dependent on changing one person at a time. This also means that what is expected of individuals may vary, a project manager may be responsible to achieve specific business development goals while a receptionist may be responsible to learn people’s voices on the phone and address key clients by name.

Step 3 – Acknowledge & Celebrate Success

Acknowledging and celebrating success is the most important step in changing corporate culture.  Firms often begin the process of change by bringing in outside training and defining new expectations, but the culture change never takes root.  The reason is that culture change is dependent on the acknowledgement of success at the highest level. Taking our example of building a culture that embraces rainmaking, this could be accomplished by the CEO taking the time to walk into individual’s offices just to say “thank you” to an employee for bringing work in the door.  That brief moment of acknowledgement will ensure that the individual knows what they did was important, not just to their manager, but that all the way up the chain their efforts are being appreciated.  In addition to acknowledging success you can celebrate success through popping a cork on a bottle of champagne when a new client signs up, or with bagels the next morning for the department with a note of thanks.

Step 4 – Reward Success

The final step in changing a corporate culture is rewarding success.  Title changes, bonuses, parking spaces, raises, and office locations linked to culture change successes ensure the long-term success of your cultural change.  This final stage should only be implanted after the other three steps as it can backfire without the proper foundation. The goal is to build the cultural shift based on people that are working to build a better company for themselves and others.

A Final Note

It is important to measure your success in changing your corporate culture one person at a time. Your culture didn’t instantly become what it is today, and it will not instantly become what you want it to be.  Rather, focus your attention on the success of individuals, by doing this you will see a wave of optimism unfold as these individuals begin to build your new corporate culture.

For more information on each of the Four Steps to Changing Corporate Culture see the links below:
Step 1 – Educate and Encourage

Step 2 – Define Expectations

Step 3 – Acknowledge & Celebrate Success

Step 4 – Reward Success

11 thoughts on “Four Steps to Changing Corporate Culture

  1. Tim:

    I am a frustrated anthropologist. I professor, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, once pointed out that a coporate culture needs the things other cultures need. These include:

    Shared Heros: Who are the celebrated, even if retired heros of rainmmaking in the firm?

    Shared myths: What are the stories, we hope true ones, that circulate about these heros and instruct?

    Share language: Are there shared words used to discuss business development? For example, is the term “rainmaker” commonly used.

    Shared customs: Do firm members as a matter of habit or custom send thank-you notes to client selection committee members after a pitch, even one you lose? What are the shared rainmaking customs?

    Shared taboos: For example, is there a shared abhorance of lapsing into sales mode before learning about the clients need?

    I could go on, but I have made my point (or more accurately, my professor’s point). I have always found this way of thinking about coporate culture useful when helping firms figure out how to establish a rainmaking culture.

    Best regards,

    Ford Harding

  2. Ford-
    Great insight! So often we put business into one box and forget that it shares common threads with other aspects of life. You provide a great reminder that by looking at these other aspects of life we can gain a greater understanding of business. Thank you for taking the time to add to this post!

    To those that may not know, Ford Harding is the author of Rain Making, Creaking Rainmakers, and Cross-Selling Success. In previous posts I have raved about these books and his blog is a permanent fixture on my blogroll.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to add your thoughts here.

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  4. Pingback: Building a Company of Rainmakers « CofeBuz - The Marketing and Business Blog

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  8. Very insightful Tim.

    As someone who has worked at failed startups, bureaucratic conglomerates and now launched a company I believe that the corporate culture is a reflection of its leaders and leadership must change before the culture can. Otherwise you risk going back to old habits in the bad times

  9. Pingback: Changing Corporate Culture: Educate and Encourage – cofebuz

  10. Pingback: Changing Corporate Culture: Define Expectations – cofebuz

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