Culture Transformation


If only I had a dollar for every time I conducted a candidate interview during my career and I was asked, “what is the company culture like!” Yes, it is universally the most frequently asked question during an interview, a networking conversation, or cocktail party when discussing where someone works.

It is however a great question. Culture pervades every aspect of a company. So, what is it really? Well, the formal definition is “beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company employees and management interact and handle business and professional interactions.”

Some aspects of organizational culture are hard to describe to people who may not work at a company because it can be as nuanced as a feeling. Perhaps only an “inside” person can understand through their experiences. Other aspects which are more obvious such as dress code, flexible work schedules, or shared work spaces can reveal a sense of culture. Do you remember your first impression on the day you were interviewed? It makes an impression on you within the first 30 seconds.

So, whether it is the physical environment like the cafeteria, office space, meeting rooms, or the way meetings are conducted, it is the tone set by the way people are treated, and treat each other and their customers. It is whether you spend your 40+ hours with colleagues. If you work for a global company perhaps you are used to communicating electronically. Some organizations have unique technological cultures such as using IM (instant messenger) as their primary mode of communication, or perhaps employees hardly ever break away from their computer screens.

Does the company weave culture through every aspect of its human resource and business systems or is what is advertised not actually reality?

If you sit back and think of your ideal company culture does it match where you work today?  Well, one thing is true, culture happens whether you are intentionally driving it to a specific goal or whether it takes on its own form of life.

Cultural transformation is a hot topic. Building a high-performance culture to help your company reach its strategic goals is somewhat easy to put on paper but not so easy to execute. More importantly, getting leadership on the same page with regards to what changes are going to be needed to be implemented to transform a culture can be a challenge in and of itself. It is usually a multi-year process to change an organization’s culture or bring it to another place, especially if you are merging two or more companies with very different cultures. Some cultures pervade from the top and others are mostly employee led.

So, if you want to change a culture, where do you start? The first step is to assess your current culture. To do this you can use multiple tools including, surveys, crowd sourcing technology, focus groups, facilitating conversations with leaders, clients, employees, and customers. Organizing this feedback is very important.

Identify those practices that your company does really well so that you can retain those aspects while identifying areas where employee, external partners, and leaders feel the need for improvement or modernization. In the new highly demanding digital world there are multiple generations to satisfy and varying expectations to meet. That is the new reality.

For example, if your company is known for having a “unique personal feel and boutique service capabilities” that make it distinctive from other competitors and help to win business, it may be important to figure out how to retain that aspect while growing larger, where more bureaucratic processes may be more efficient but far less personal in feeling.

Also, it is important to understand where your culture strategy is going and if the current culture has the capability of the helping the company to succeed. For example, if your company is traditional and wants employees to come to work every day but the future requires more flexibility, with remote options allowing employees the ability to work from anywhere. Is there a balance that can grow with more progressive times and still help your company meet its operational and strategic goals?

Once you have put on paper the culture your company wants to achieve embedding this into every aspect of human resources and operational processes is essential. Consider the behavior you want your managers to exhibit, including how to coach leaders, managers, and employees on performance management processes and goals to reflect the transformed cultural expectations. Include incentives for employees to exhibit these behaviors, as well as various forms of accolades that your company highlights to its employees. They are all important and must be woven together to begin to create the fabric of this new cultural model. HR cannot do this alone. It will require everyone on the leadership team to be on the same page and then the processes can be woven in through the help of marketing and communications to advertise, promote, market, and publish examples, and communicate clearly and often throughout the process.

So maybe you are sitting back smiling that you have an awesome culture at work or maybe you are making a list of all of the things that need to change. There are many great examples of companies that have done this well and, unfortunately, lots of organizations with missteps you can read about. This is a journey, it takes time and commitment.

What will you do to help change the culture of your company to be even better than it is today?

About the author: Christine Bilotti Peterson is a high performance Executive Coach and Human Resource Executive with 25 years of experience assessing, consulting and advising clients on human resource strategy, talent assessment, selection and development driving both organizational and team achievement and fulfillment of individual business, professional and personal goals.

Christine spent the last five years as the Chief Human Resource Officer of The Hanover Insurance Group. Christine is a Certified Executive Coach (ICF) and holds an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic University and a Bachelor of Arts from Central Connecticut State University.