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The 3 Levels of Culture Renovation

Posted by Irvine, Derek at Thursday, 12/13/2012 2:52 pm
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3.2 from 24 votes
Recognize This! – Like homes, organization cultures can also use polish, expansion or full demolition over time.

Have you ever done renovations in your home? I’ve done several over the years, and one thing I’ve noticed is variety in how drastic a home renovation can be.

The same can be true for changing organization culture. There are varying degrees in how drastic those changes can be based on the level of change (or intervention) needed. In particular, I see three levels of “culture renovation.”

Level 1: Polish
– The least intrusive renovation, this is much like slapping on a new coat of paint, perhaps updating fixtures or adding new accessories. Sometimes a historically strong culture needs a “culture boost.” Perhaps leadership and employees alike have become a bit lackadaisical in living the company values and encouraging others to do the same, but the at its core, the positive, appreciative culture is still strong. This just needs a quick polish and touch-up.

Ideas can include an update from the CEO on the importance of everyone living and contributing to the culture, updates to existing programmatic tools to support the culture, additional training for recent hires, etc.

Level 2: Expansion
– More intrusive, the expansion would be like taking some space from your master bedroom to build out and enlarge the on-suite bath. The bones are good, but you just need to grow. With corporate culture, this is not uncommon after a merger or acquisition. The bones of your existing company culture are strong, you just need to expand it into the new organization. This takes more work because, of course, those employees are already ingrained in the culture from the prior organization and need to be educated and encouraged on why the new culture is better in order to switch their hearts as well as their minds and hands.

Ideas can include focused training and discussion sessions for the acquired team members on the culture, why it’s important to the organization and, critically, what the expectations are for their direct contributions to continue to build a strong culture going forward.

Level 3: Demolition
– The most intrusive, this is the equivalent of finding toxic mold and termites. There is no other option than complete demolition and starting over from scratch. While I hope no one has ever worked in an organization that needed a complete demo of their culture, I’ve spoken with too many people over the years who have. These terrible cultures can originate with the founder from the earliest days of the company, or they can evolve over time as new leadership replaces old. If you’re in a position to influence culture, then you must take the step to demolish so you can rebuild from a clean slate.

Ideas must include involvement of all employees in a discussion around culture, current state and desired state; a willingness to take hard steps (including removing toxic/bully employees); and a clear vision of the kind of culture you want to create and the defined steps you will take to get there. This last must also include metrics of success and measurement and regular reporting to ensure efforts are on track.

Of course, I advocate for the power of a culture of recognition, proactively managed, to drive the business results you need – increased engagement, retention, productivity and performance.

What’s the state of your organization’s culture? What level of renovation does it need?