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Culture Change? That’s Out of My Control!


Mon Apr 22 2019

Culture Change? That’s Out of My Control!

We constantly hear that cultures are difficult to change. If that’s our belief, then yes, it will be difficult. If, however, we believe it’s possible—and that we as talent development professionals can be influential in changing a culture—that belief creates opportunity.

Having the right mindset toward changing culture is square one. From there, we move forward. In fairness, many of us have experienced a new executive leader who enthusiastically leads the cheer of “changing the culture.” This new culture is given lots of talk—until a year later that executive is gone and the only change is the paint on the walls. Sound familiar? Stories like that are too common so it’s no surprise when we feel a little overcooked on culture change.


Here’s a more optimistic and practical perspective: The truth is that whether the executive leader is diametrically opposed to culture change or its biggest supporter, talent development professionals can change a culture. How do we know? We lived it. And at ATD 2019, we will present a case study outlining our journey. In our session Evaluating Impact in the Development of a Civil Culture we will demystify the elusive subject of culture change.

Our experience has been that cultures can be changed, ideally for the better. Good cultures can become great just as cultures with negative and toxic elements can become civil and respectful. In our session, we’ll walk through an approach that incorporates design thinking with a focus on outcomes that have a measurable impact on organizational culture.

Whether you are looking for a complete overhaul of your organizational culture or more of a tune-up, begin by identifying which elements of the current culture are negatively influencing the environment. You probably won’t have to look far!

For example, no one likes complaining and gossiping, but gossip becomes an acceptable workplace behavior when the culture is permissive of it. Don’t worry about the C-suite or the board rooms here; instead, focus on making management your change agents. Empower managers with tools to help lead civil conversations. Build civil conversation into your competency structure and clearly define what it looks like. Hold managers to those expectations—they should not only have civil conversations but lead and facilitate civil conversations. The gossip and rumors that may be happening on the frontline can be changed with manager involvement. Gossip can represent either constructive criticism or destructive talk. Managers must learn to discern the difference and welcome the former while they root out and squash the latter.

Many tools and training programs can equip managers to deal with gossip. The opportunity for those in talent development is to marry those programs with a cultural alignment. Build in performance expectations for the desired behaviors so there is reinforcement. In the end, we all know: That which gets measured gets done!


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