9 Tips for Managing Cultural Change

Rapid advances in technology, changing attitudes to work, plus multigenerational and diversity trends are all contributing to an exciting cultural shift in the workplace. Our workforce has become more varied than ever before – a true melting pot of people, purpose and position. For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, we have five generations represented across working cohorts, from Traditionalists to the newly minted Gen Z graduates.

That’s right, things are changing people! Don’t be intimidated though, because this ‘new work order’ actually represents a wonderful opportunity for you to empower your employees, help them to succeed and unlock their potential.

We’ve identified some simple yet extremely effective strategies and new initiatives to help you transition your team through this period of workplace change and optimise employee engagement in the process.

Tip 1: Be Patient

Embracing change doesn’t happen overnight and people will naturally be resistant at first. In order to create significant, lasting change in a sustainable way you need to first acknowledge that this may take time. Allow some breathing room for new initiatives to pick up. Track their progress and be prepared to weather a little bounce-back at first. That being said, do set a time-bound goal. Patience is a virtue but we also want this change to be impactful and dynamic. Set yourself short term goals when implementing new strategies and ways to monitor their progress.

Tip 2: Enlist Support

That’s right, you don’t have to do this all yourself! A secret factor in mitigating resistance to change is to enlist the help of others, so that you aren’t out there on a limb alone. Ask yourself, who are your hidden influencers? Who are your cheerleaders for change? Identify some core individuals who can act as change advocates and help you shepherd in new initiatives. These key individuals should represent a diverse cross-section of your employee base and they will become your best resource when garnering buy in from your team.

Tip 3: Bottom Up, Not Top Down

Hand the reins over to your employees. Evidence suggests that employee engagement scores tend to decline as you go down the org chart, at their lowest point amongst sales and service employees. This means that often highly engaged senior executives are likely to underestimate the discontent on the front lines. A top down model will therefore likely do little to boost the engagement of already disenfranchised employees. Instead, you can empower your employees and improve engagement by tapping in to what motivates them and promotes large-scale involvement. By shifting focus to a bottom up solution, you are equipping your employees with the agency to turn the culture around and see real results. Tools or initiatives that encourage cross-departmental contact, incentivising or positive feedback are excellent places to start. Of course, it’s still vital that your broader management team lead by example, supporting organisational developments and adopting new initiatives too, because real inclusion must occur at every level of the org chart.

Tip 4: Double Down on Your Values

More so than ever before, employees view work in terms of their impact and purpose not solely as a way to make money.  Building a company culture full of employees invested in a shared purpose is a powerful thing, but maintaining this sense of unified meaning is difficult.

“Organizational purpose demands that you link work to a sense of shared meaning. But it is difficult to do this if purpose is too abstract.”

Forbes

This is where it’s important to splice out a few digestible, easy-to-connect-with, company values that can inspire and guide your employees. Ask yourself, what does your company stand for? Upon what principles do you operate? What attributes does your company appreciate or search for in its employees? Next, ask yourself how this can relate to your company culture? By doubling down on your company values and lifting these up as shared signifiers of success and purpose, you can unify your team and give your employees a sense of working towards something bigger than themselves.

Tip 5: Focus on the Individual

There’s nothing worse than feeling like a cog in a machine, just one of hundreds or thousands. With increasingly diverse workplace cultures, our employees now have varied needs, priorities and motivations. The challenge you face as a shepherd of cultural change is to identify large scale tactics that you can implement that don’t seem generic or “catch all”. Don’t assume that the needs of you or a small sample of employees is what matters to all. Before we can practice inclusion, we must first know what matters. Run surveys, diverse focus groups, and find out what’s important to your employees across various career stages, generations, genders, backgrounds, ethnicities, and functions. Enabling your employees to simply feel seen and heard is a crucial part of successfully managing cultural change.

Tip 6: Incentivise

Don’t we all remember being rewarded with a movie or an ice cream for good behaviour as kids? Despite appearances, not much in our psychology has evolved with age. Doesn’t it sometimes feel like the office has become little more than a kindergarten with coffee on tap, tailored attire and speed typing instead of finger painting? (And sadly, no afternoon naps). Incentivising may be the oldest trick in the book but that’s because, well, it works, so why not indulge the inner child of your employees and channel your own inner Oprah by showering your team with some good old fashioned goodies?

Just remember, the cornerstone of effective incentivising is to find balance in the reward – be sure to provide enough of a reward to pique interest but not too big a reward that the incentive becomes the only motivating factor. It’s all about hooking them in to adopt a new behaviour. Where possible, find a way to incentivise that is steeped in authenticity and aligns with the values of your company.

Tip 7: Lead with Positivity

Positivity. Remind us, what’s that again? Too often we see workplaces devolve into competitive, toxic environments, where an impassioned meeting is a slippery slope to fostering negativity. There’s no denying that plenty of situations and factors relating to our modern work lives are wildly stressful. Why not mitigate that stress with a little sprinkle of unabashed positivity? As culture curators, you lend an ear to the woes and worries of your employees and leadership team and act as an invaluable bridge of unity between practically every person that makes up the organisation. (Not an easy job, is it?) Remember, people are more likely to complain about something than they are to praise.

“Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones … Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones.”

New York Times

Putting positivity and gratitude first is not always a natural thing for most people to do, but it is something that can radically transform company culture. A compliment goes a long way in building relationships, motivation, confidence, buy-in and improving workplace dynamics, staff retention and agency.

Tip 8: Celebrate Small Wins

No doubt you already have a structured schedule of employee 1:1s, yearly reviews and formalised feedback loops, but whilst these provide a good deal of impact at an individual level, they are often too infrequent, top down and not transparent enough to impact your company culture. Wouldn’t it be great to have a centralised, formalised forum in which to champion the work of your colleagues, celebrate small wins and show appreciation in real time? We’re not talking about a contrived popularity contest, or an ego-driven echo chamber, but a place to acknowledge and celebrate the mastery of our colleague in that week, day, hour. So often, employee satisfaction stems from feeling unnoticed, under-appreciated, undervalued. You can tackle this by creating an opportunity to share praise that is not called upon, that is authentic, organic, and appreciation-driven. Providing an open line of communication and celebration across functions, generations and level of seniority is a vital part of managing cultural change. By establishing a culture of celebrating small wins, our eyes become more attune to seeking out these winning moments and seeing the best in our colleagues. This practice ultimately leads to increased employee output because appreciation leads to effort, and effort leads to success.

Tip 9: Reflection

Often we must look back in order to move forward. Simply put, be sure to set aside moments to reflect on where you’ve been in order to inform your strategy in the future. Ask yourself, what has worked in the past? What hasn’t? And most important of all, ask yourself why or why not. Try to examine the past in a non-judgemental way, disentangling yourself from previous outcomes and instead, look back on the process through neutral eyes. Sure, an initiative may not have proven successful from a results standpoint, but in our current success-crazed climate, we too often sweep deemed “failures” under the rug with little investigation. Perhaps upon further reflection, certain elements could be extracted that were actually overwhelmingly successful. Don’t be too quick to move forward – you might just uncover some gems!

Hopefully these tips can help you to implement lasting solutions, empower your employees and effectively manage cultural change in a positive way.

Want More? Unipos is a positivity platform for recognising and celebrating employees and their small wins by incentivising others to show recognition. Fuelled on positivity, this easy-to-use workplace tool is radically transforming the cultural landscape in the office for the good.