Changing the culture at your company isn’t easy (It’s not that it’s necessarily complicated, it’s just an awful lot of work). But culture change done right can transform your company into a customer-centric and employee-embracing company. Here are seven steps that will help get you there.
- Make the decision. If you don’t make the decision to drive cultural change at your company, make it loudly, proudly, and in a way that’s hard to turn back from, it’s not going to happen.
- Spell it out. Take a very, very few words–really, just a handful!–to say what your decision looks like. For example Mayo Clinic’s “The needs of the patient comes first.” Seven words, none of them consultantese, only one of them longer than a syllable. If you need more words than this, that’s OK. The Ritz-Carlton not only has the timeless “We are ladies and gentlement serving ladies and gentlemen” but also “The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission.
- Start talking about the change at every orientation. If you waste orientation talking about the employee fridge and how it’s emptied out on Fridays, how to file for vacation time or sick leave and such, you’re blowing it. Orientation is a time when employees are (ironically), disoriented, and as such it’s a crucial time to have someone at the very highest level in the organization (at the Ritz-Carlton it’s the CEO, every time a new hotel opens; at Danny Meyer’s restaurants it’s Danny Meyer) talk about what is central and immutable in the organization’s culture. Its purpose, in other words.
- Overhaul your hiring and personnel practices. Every single employee, from this moment forward, needs to be hired for reasons that are congruent with your newly stated values. This is very, very important. And as far as personnel policies, no more docking people for coming in late from the lunch break to assist a customer they found in distress. No more ranking based on average handle time on phone calls. And so forth. The CEO can make the highest of high-minded values statements, but here is where the rubber hits the road, where your culture can be supported or sabotaged
- Standardize (in the right way). Everything that can reasonably be expected to occur between you and your customers deserves to be standardized, explaining (to your employees) both what to do and the reason behind the suggested behavior (so that they can deviate from it when the situation calls for a different approach)
- Commit yourself to employee empowerment, including employee-directed job design. Jobs should not by default be considered activities that are done by employees but designed by their so-called superiors. While, of course, to some extent this has to be true, especially in life-threatening situations–your employee can lead an evacuation down a fire escape but can't necessarily design standards for what is an acceptable or unacceptable level of smoke inhalation–it's important to simultaneously push against it, to let your employees know what they need to get done but not necessarily how they should go about designing their day and carrying out their duties.
- Keep the momentum going. Ongoing reinforcement is crucial. Consider how the Ritz-Carlton has maintained its culture for decades, even in the face of leadership changes and some very challenging economic times. The centerpiece is daily lineup approach: a few minutes every day discussing just one of your list of cultural values or service standards, with the meeting led by a different employee every time. The result, added up over a year or years, is a lot of reinforcement. And it makes every single one of those days of that year or years better on its own.