One of the biggest difference-makers at any level of an organization is culture. The companies I meet with are always looking for that high-performing culture—and for good reason.

We often think of culture as only “company culture,” but the reality is that it extends to every level of an organization. Not only is there a company culture, but there are also different cultures within smaller groups including a department culture, office culture, and team culture. Impacting any of these cultures can make a huge difference in terms of your organization’s performance.

But changing your culture isn’t easy. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult tasks your organization can undertake—but the rewards you’ll reap are invaluable. Here’s how to do it.

Identify your current culture.

Whether you like it or not, your organization has a culture. Could you describe your organization’s current culture? Most of the time, organizations feel they know what that culture is but they’re wrong. The view of the culture from up top isn’t the same as the view from inside the trenches. You’ll need to really dig deep to understand your organization’s culture. Send out surveys, talk to your people, and get to know the truth of your existing culture.

Understand your desired culture.

Just as with anything else, it’s crucial to know where you’re headed. Identify the kind of culture you want by thinking about what it would look like. When you sit down with a friend a few years from now to talk about the culture changes you made, what kinds of examples would you share? What kinds of stories and images would come out of that desired culture? If you don’t have this knowledge, you’ll only be talking in theoretical terms, without a real picture to guide you. 

Change your culture.

When the time comes for closing the gap between your current culture and your desired one, you’ll have to hone your new culture in three steps:

  1. Your leaders’ actions. Change has to start from the top down. Your leaders’ actions will drive your people’s beliefs, and those beliefs will drive the behaviors you want. Sit down and closely consider your team’s current behaviors: what do you want to start doing, what do you want to stop doing, and what do you want to continue doing?
  2. Company messaging. Once you’ve made decisions about your actions, it’s time to consider your messaging. The right messages can tell people what to look for and focus on making them more likely to see the changes you hope to inspire.
  3. Systemize your new culture. To really make this change stick, you need to develop a framework. Document what your leaders should look like, the behaviors and skills they should have, and the values they need to hold. Take a hard look at your performance-management system: if you fire people who embody your culture or reward people who don’t, you’re sending mixed messages. And don’t forget to make sure that everyone you bring into your organization fits your culture, and onboard them in a way that acclimates them quickly to your culture.

Changing your organization’s culture can be one of the most important things you do to bring your performance to the next level. If you’ve decided where you want your company to be, it’s time to take charge of your actions, messaging, and framework to make the change—and make it stick.

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