Cultural Transformation: An Upheaval Or Metamorphosis?

Siddharth Reddy

The need for a cultural change is not uncommon in a workplace. Many organisations make cultural shifts so it synchronises well with their long-term business strategy as well as their workforce. In fact, when a company’s culture matches its business strategy, it naturally attracts people who are comfortable in the environment - what is otherwise called as a highly engaged workplace conducive to productivity and success.

Bringing about a cultural transformation is no easy game for corporates, you are asking people to change their attuned way of being and unlearn old ways after all. So how do you make it happen? It takes a good understanding of the psychology behind people’s behaviours, actions and decision drivers, alongside sincere efforts from the management to make a cultural shift happen. The approach your change management model working towards a cultural transformation takes can make all the difference between an inconvenient upheaval and a beautiful metamorphosis.

Employee Value Proposition for Reciprocity

Employee Value Proposition has been gaining a lot of traction in the HR industry in the recent days, and can be a crucial piece in making your organisation’s cultural transformation come to life. An EVP is a complete offering an employer makes to its prospective and current employees in return for their best every day. An EVP encompasses pay and other non-financial benefits that are of great value to employees. How it fits in, in a cultural transformation scenario is that, it helps find and keep employees who are the right fit for the organisation culture-wise, while it also forges an unwritten give-and-take psychological contract between employees and the organisation. Of course, you need to crack the right EVP for your organisation to make the magic happen.

EVP is unique to every organisation, just like its culture. An organisation’s EVP is developed carefully after evaluating the values, vision, mission and roadmap, and understanding what kind of idol employees would help them realise these goals. Take time to figure out what gets employees excited about your workplace, to show up and give their best every day, or what are things that they would not care about as much. These insights can then be used to develop a well-rounded EVP unique to your organisation, by knowing what your employees really care about. Make sure your EVP is in tune with your culture, to attract and retain employees who will embrace it with open arms. Statistics report that departments with cultural alignment record 30% lower turnover rates. When employees receive a solid proposition from their employer that is in line with their dreams and desires, they naturally reciprocate the gesture and help the organisation thrive.

So far we have just looked at how to build your organisation’s unique EVP. To put it into action, you want to tap into all phases of an employee’s lifecycle in the organisation. Ideally, an EVP will come into picture even before an employee has made the decision to join your organisation, and will stay on long after they have moved out of the organisation. The EVP design code outlines exactly this, as it captures moments in the employee’s journey such as, decision day, first day, every day, achievement day, referral day, that are avenues to strengthen the employee-employer relationship, and hence influence the reciprocity in adhering to the culture. Ultimately, it is up to employers how best they tap into EVP to bring about a cultural change in the organisation. Make a proposition to your employees that makes them want to return the favour.

Get to the Roots with Behavioural Economics

Behavioural Economics is another key asset in introducing cultural change. Any kind of a cultural change requires a behavioural change in the people in the equation. Getting employees to adopt new practices and modify their current mind-set comes with time, and is not simple as a simple on-off switch; humans are complex beings after all. Behavioural Economics principles allow us to dig deeper into human psychology, understand how people make decisions, making it easier to bring in change in behaviour so it is in tune with the culture.

The real enablers that can put your cultural transformation strategy into action are employee recognition and rewards tools. As Behavioural Economics shows, Dopamine Effect or the rush that people feel when something good happens can be used to direct them to repeat certain behaviours. Offering rewards and recognition in return for living by an organisation’s new culture and values, naturally makes employees feel good about themselves, as a result of Dopamine Effect. This is a common behaviour management strategy where positive reinforcement is used to induce change. Timing is key while reinforcing a positive behaviour. A reinforcement enabler that comes into play long after the desired behaviour is displayed, simply fails to do the job. You want to follow-up any good act in cultural transformation displayed by employees with positive reinforcement, and immediately, so it doesn’t lose its meaning.

Some change management models even use negative reinforcement to help people unlearn old habits, or as in this case, old practices, values or behaviour. Of course, it takes a good balance of positive and negative reinforcement strategies to get the change transformation act right. Ultimately you want employees to believe that they have more to gain from fulfilling positive consequences when compared to negative consequences. As another B.E Principle, Prospect Theory explains, people make decisions based on potential gains and losses. So if you were to frame the positive consequences of adopting a new behaviour versus the negative consequences of the same, the former would have a better impact than the latter. Bottom line, you want to show people how much more they have to gain from embracing their new culture, while giving a slight push to people who show resistance to cultural change by showing the inconvenient negative consequences that follow, alongside showing them the way out on how it can be easily avoided.

Bringing in All Levels of Leadership for All-embracing Change

A common roadblock that gets in the way of change management is the misconception that it’s only the senior-most management that can lead change. Middle managers can play a pivotal role in turning the top-line strategy into day-to-day action by employees. According to statistics 28% to 36% employees claim that they work with leaders who have a dysfunctional approach, while another survey reveals that nearly half the people leave their jobs to escape a bad manager. If there is anything that these telling statistics reveal, it is that middle managers make a difference to the perceptions and decisions of the team members. For the effects of cultural change to truly trickle down all levels of hierarchy, change needs to start in each team, with every manager and leadership team member taking the reign of responsibility and involving every employee in the organisation. How do you bring a cultural transformation without getting the people involved, involved? In fact, one of the common barriers to cultural change, or why employees resist change, is that they do not feel as if they are a part of the change process. It starts with making employees at every level aware of cultural changes coming in, and the why and how of it, alongside showing how they’ll be making a difference in the big picture.

The next step is to enable managers with recognition and reward tools to positively reinforce new values and cultural ideas. A survey by Gallup revealed that the most memorable recognition for employees comes from their managers. Clearly, employees look for affirmation from their high-ups, especially their managers; this makes recognition a powerful tool in reinforcing cultural change. Managers in individual teams can use recognition to drive the new values in team members, encouraging them and thanking them for upholding organisational values, which cumulatively helps bring about cultural change in the organisation. Train your managers on the what, when, and how of using recognition and reward tools to truly make your cultural transformation a reality.

A social recognition framework can further speed up the process of cultural transformation. The more people see others being rewarded and recognised for adapting to the new culture, it encourages them to follow suite. As Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a recognition and motivation guru explains, “Recognition creates role models and heroes and communicates standards. It says: these are the kinds of things that are valued here.”

Furthermore, most people respond to social code and conform to unsaid norms set in place in their immediate environment. It’s all about being a part of the herd, and making decisions based on what everyone else is doing. Once you get the ball rolling and get a few people to adapt to a new culture, it’s only a matter of time before social recognition and awareness make it gain momentum, and others are persuaded to join the herd as well. This helps cut down some of the resistance a cultural transformation may otherwise face. Throw in the perks of recognition and rewards that people receive on adopting the new culture, and you know why this is a winning strategy for your change management model.

Once you have a cultural change set into motion, the next step is to create a lasting impact, which calls for sustained efforts on the part of an employer. To sustain change, organisations need to focus on critical behaviours that are essential for the cultural impact, while harnessing the power of the leadership, recognition and behavioural principles consistently, until the change of culture becomes the way of being.