The Two Keys to Changing The Culture of Your Business (or Organization)

Simply put, if your business or organization isn’t growing, you have a culture problem. In other words, businesses don’t plateau or decline for no reason at all. There’s always a reason. And usually it’s a culture problem.

Assuming that you’re the leader of your business or organization (i.e. your the kind of person who normally reads my blog), then you know what that means, right? Exactly. You’re the problem (aren’t you glad you decided to read today :-).

For good or for bad, every business (or organization) is a direct reflection of their leader/owner/CEO. If you’re a  risk taker, your organization is. If you’re a detail person, your organization is. If you’re a shoot-from-the-hip kind of person, your business is. Whatever you are, your business is a direct reflection of you.

Note: If you don’t believe me, just look at the children of other people :-). Case closed!

So, if there’s something in your business or organization that isn’t working (like plateaued metrics or a lack of growth) then there are some cultural issues related to you in two key areas—what you say and what you do—that are holding your business (or organization) back.

In light of that, my encouragement to you (or any leader) is to own that and then commit to changing it. And how can you do that? Simple! By focusing on the two keys to changing any culture—and doing that over a long period of time. Remember, culture isn’t created in a day. Nor is it changed in a day! If you want to turn the culture of your business around, you need to think in terms of months and years (not hours and days)

So, what are the two keys to changing the culture of any business or organization?

1. Stories

Since the beginning of time, culture has been forged by the telling of stories. The Greeks and Romans used mythology. The Jewish people used the Torah. And as Americans, we have our own stories about pilgrims and George Washington and the settlers of the wild west etc. Our culture of rugged individualism is forged in story. Our belief in democracy is forged in story. Our belief in free enterprise is forged in story. Even our belief that anyone can go from rags to riches is forged in story (i.e. the Horatio Alger’s story).

What that means is that whatever the culture is that you have currently, that culture was shaped by the stories your told. What you focused on. What you talked about. Who you lifted up. Who you tore down. Who you picked on. Etc.

Which is good news because it means that you’re not stuck with the culture you have. Since culture is shaped by story, all you need to do is start telling different stories. And they don’t have to all be yours. You can share stories from other businesses and organizations.

For example, let’s say your company has a problem with the speed of following up new leads. You could start sharing stories of other companies that blew you away.

For example, I remember visiting a church in Dallas years ago where when a middle school kid would visit their program for the first time, they’d register each new kid’s name and address. Then, while the middle school kid was attending the youth event, the church had a team of people who would go to those kids’ homes and put up a sign in each kids’ yard saying something like, “Thanks for visiting …” and tie a few balloons on it. Now, imagine you went to a youth event for the first time and an hour later came home and a sign was already in your yard, would you be impressed? Absolutely!

In other words, part of your job as the leader/owner of your business is to be a collector and sharer of stories. Stories of employees living out the values. Stories of great customer/client outcomes. Stories of your beliefs and values. Stories of other businesses and organizations. Etc.

Why? Because culture is created by story! It always has been and it always will be. So, how are you doing with collecting and sharing stories that will help you create the kind of culture that will propel your business or organization into the future?

2. Example.

Next to story, the second greatest influencer on culture is the example of the senior leader. Why? Because people do what people see. If people see you missing deadlines, they’ll miss their deadlines. If people see you arriving late for meetings, they’ll arrive late for meetings. If people see you making spelling and grammatical errors, they’ll make spelling and grammatical errors. Whatever you do, they’ll do.

The problem, of course, is that most people have an easier time modeling bad or poor behavior than they do modeling good behavior. It’s another outcome from Genesis 3—which is why it’s so critical that you monitor your behavior and make sure you’re living out what you want to create.

If you want your people to produce excellent work, make sure you only produce excellent work. If you want your people to be present with people, make sure you’re always present with people (and not distracted or typing an email/text during a meeting). If you want your people to respond quickly to customers, you have to make sure you always respond quickly to email. If you want your people to care, then you have to make sure you model care all the time. If you want your people to execute quickly, then you need to make sure you’re executing quickly.

For good or for bad, people do what people see. So, if you don’t like what your employees are doing, as a leader, you should always take a look in the mirror and ask, “What are my people seeing in me?”

If what you see isn’t what you want, then you know what to do … change your behavior. And not just moderately, significantly. In fact, back in my old pastoral days we used to frequently use a phrase to drive this home.

“If you want your people to bleed, you need to hemorrhage.”

So there you go. The two keys to changing the culture of any business or organization. So, how are you doing? Do you need to start telling more stories? Or different stories? And/or do you need to change something in the example you’re setting in order to get the result you want from your people? If you do, make sure you do so quickly. Why? Because the two best and longest lasting ways to change the people you’re leading are to change the stories you tell and the example you set.

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you have any other culture change ideas, feel free to add them below in the comments section (click here if you’re reading this by RSS or by email).