Culture Club: Can Company Culture Be Changed?

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Welcome back to our series on company culture. So far, we’ve discussed the basic tenets of what makes a good company culture and what to look for to find out if a potential employer is a good fit for your individual goals and work style. But what if your company isn’t the best fit, but a job change isn’t feasible at the moment, or if you genuinely enjoy your current position, but the company culture is lacking? Is change from within possible when it comes to impacting the workplace?

It might be an uphill climb to get all people—the C-suite, HR, current employees in all departments—on board but a positive culture change will yield bigger rewards and boost overall company morale, reputation, staff retention and make the company more attractive to high quality candidates. 

So where to start? Unfortunately, a company can’t flip a switch and suddenly “be better.” Like in life, change takes time, patience, perseverance and a collaborative spirit. A recent article by Harvard Business Review noted that “culture change can’t be achieved through top-down mandate. It lives in the collective hearts and habits of people and their shared perception of ‘how things are done around here.’ Someone with authority can demand compliance, but they can’t dictate optimism, trust, conviction, or creativity.”

Ask yourself these questions to strategize the best way to change your company’s culture from inside.

Why is change needed and why now?

There’s a reason people say “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” For many types of businesses, the status quo has proven to be a reliable, so why upset it? Fortunately, people in the tech industry know that looking for new and creative ways to solve problems is what propels inspired thinking and new innovations. Pinpoint what areas of the company culture need improvement and why it matters—both to the company and to the current climate of the industry. Being able to tap into company’s weaknesses and translate that to company strengths is a solid foundation to advance the system from inside.

What is the benefit for the company?

Whatever adjustment you want to see, be prepared to back up the argument with hard data. Just arguing that flexible office hours equals more productivity isn’t as strong of a case as being able to demonstrate why it is in the company’s best interest to offer nontraditional work schedules. If possible, do preliminary tests or a trial run of proposed ideas to make sure what you want to see is a) needed and b) cost-effective and manageable for the company to implement.

“Culture can be as important as the job itself, both from the employer’s perspective and the employee’s,” says Kitty Brandtner, director of major accounts at LaSalle Network, a recruitment firm. Offering a solution to an employee problem (wanting more flexible hours, for example) can produce a solution that’s favorable to the employer (happier, more productive staff). It’s a win-win, but only if you can prove it.

Is the company staying competitive?

Don’t forget to check on similar companies that are already doing what you want to propose. It’s imperative for companies to know how their competitors are handling similar issues—after all, company culture can be a deal-breaker for potential job candidates. 

How do I get the company on-board?

Find an important ally, ideally your boss. Pitch your ideas on how to improve company culture and ask for honest, constructive feedback. Then use that feedback to build a stronger case. It would be difficult for a decision-maker to turn down a well-thought out idea, especially one endorsed by trusted superiors. And of course, be prepared to “walk the walk”. If you believe that flexible schedule is an important marker for productivity and employee loyalty, make sure you don’t abuse that privilege!

But not everyone likes my ideas. What now?

Backlash is possible, so be prepared. What works for you could be perceived as not in someone else’s interest, and understanding that goes a long way toward making progressive strides—professionally and personally. As Brandtner points out, “There is a culture of an organization, and then sub-cultures in departments or groups or locations—and they are not one-size-fits-all.” Being open and sympathetic to how someone else’s ideas can offer new perspectives and potential solutions.

But can one person really make a difference?

 Of course! Anything that has ever happened started with a simple idea. Even if your company culture improvements are shot down, you have shown creative problem-solving, leadership, and forward-thinking. Maybe this idea didn’t take, but there is always another idea, another way to improve and better a situation. If the big picture is out of focus, try narrowing the view to a smaller part of the company, where change might happen more immediately.

When it comes to company culture, positive input creates more opportunities for positive output. If you lead by example, others can see just how effective being an enthusiastic, goal-oriented team player can be, and others may join your cause.  If you want to “go along to get along,” that works too, but be sure to thank the people who go out of their way to try to make the company a good place to work.