Changing Corporate Culture: Educate and Encourage

Step 1 – Educate and Encourage


In order for someone to succeed in a new culture they must first understand the culture in question. If you were going to send someone from your company to China you would first give them training on how to conduct business in China’s culture. The same is true when asking someone to integrate into a new corporate culture. You must first educate your staff so they know what is expected in the new culture. By doing this you will give them the knowledge necessary to succeed.

Many firms unfortunately miss this critical first step. Often those in leadership positions see the desired cultural shift as “easy to understand” or “something that will just happen over time.” The reality is that your staff is the central key to your cultural change because they are your culture. Humans inately shy away from change that they do not understand. What is exciting to note, however, is that most humans are excited and easily willing to accept change that they see as beneficial. As a result it is important to educate your staff not just so they understand your terminology, but also so that they understand what you are working to achieve and how it will benefit them.


Most people understand the reasons that education is a critical first step, but struggle to see why encouragement is such a key component. When my wife and I first started to teach our children the alphabet we encouraged them every time they got a letter correct. After they had learned five or so letters they started to realize that they were capable of learning the letters and eventually they became self motivated as they became excited about how the letters worked in the world around them.

The same holds true for adults. If you receive encouragement (positive reinforcement) along with education it is easier to understand when you are succeeding. The result is a shorter duration to obtaining the knowledge and the development of self motivation. Simply stated, we learn better when we receive positive reinforcement for our actions.

Most often the encouragement we are referring to takes the form of verbal praise when someone incorporates that which they have learned into their job. The important thing is to ensure that they understand what they are being praised (encouraged) for.

What it looks like

Take for example the objective of changing corporate culture toward a culture that embraces business development.  Under this example, the first thing people need to know is how they can be a part of bring work in the door.  This may require training in areas such as networking, understanding the marketing process, and business development. During and after training management should focus on encouraging employees that try out newly acquired skills by simply saying ‘good job…’ and calling out the specific action that was in line with the corporate culture shift.



Roll with the Changes

In his recent post Roll with the Changes on PSMJ Resources Ed Hannan addresses the ever changing face of marketing. I especially like his thoughts on LinkedIn in the last four paragraphs. Namely, he and I agree that LinkedIn has become the business networking site of choice in the United States today. If you haven’t visited the PSMJ Resources blog recently it is well worth taking the time to explore. Also, Bruce posted a great blog today on the same site that will help you determine if you are a seagull manager. Thanks Ed and Bruce!

It’s Not ‘Just Business’

The phrase “It’s Just Business” has become an accepted way to dehumanize important decisions.  The reality is that, in our relatively small industry where relationships are everything, it is impossible to negate the importance of relationships when faced with difficult business decisions.  We cannot suddenly stop making important business decisions, but neither should we selectively disregard the importance of relationships when making those decisions.  To succeed in the long run we need to make people, not business, the primary focus of our decision-making process.

Making Sound Business Decisions
This past year our company celebrated its 30th anniversary with an open house to which we invited as many of our previous employees as we could track down.  We were surprised by what we found: most of our previous employees were still working locally; many were leaders of change affecting our business everyday; and dozens were now our clients. 

Looking at how these former employees have continued to impact our company has reinforced the importance of these long-term relationships.  Sound business decisions should consider not only immediate needs of the company, but also the company’s future, which is based largely on a culture of trusted relationships.  Business decisions made with the “It’s Just Business” philosophy embrace the faulty premise that the company is more important than people.  By making decisions that are best for people we strengthen our companies and build teams that believe in our decisions and leadership even after individual team members depart.

An Industry Built on Relationships
In his blog, Mark Buckshon, President of Construction News and Report Publishing, states that, “You will achieve the highest results if you think longer-term and in the context of giving.” His statement is especially true in our industry, which is a leader in recognizing the importance of relationships as the key to our successes and failures.  It is important to note this as we make business decisions, knowing that others in our company and industry will evaluate our motivations and, based on their observations, will develop trust in our leadership accordingly.

It’s Just People
Many companies have succeeded at making people the center of their decisions.  Some examples include: the company that tries to find new jobs for employees facing layoffs; the manager that mentors an underachiever instead of firing the employee; and the owner who respects seniority when promoting a young project manager over an experienced individual by changing a title or adapting team structure.  Undoubtedly, this people-centered approach to business decisions can be more difficult in the short-term, but most successes are built on long-term, not on short-term gains.

It’s Just Smart Business
Perhaps it is time to give up our “It’s Just Business” slogan and instead focus on the value of every relationship – current and past employees as well as clients.  Next time you are making an important decision think about the potential long-term benefits of maintaining strong relationships. 

This article, written by Tim Klabunde, was originally published in the August 2008 edition of Marketer, the leading marketing publication of the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industry.