Change management, Talent Management
Cultural change: The 7 factors that make you successful

Table of contents

Cultural change: Changing the corporate culture – is that even possible?

For two years, we have been supporting the cultural change of a company with almost 500 employees. Customer orientation is the focus of this process. A few weeks ago, I happened to be standing in the cafeteria of this company at the same table as the managing director of one of the company’s customers. After I had briefly described our mission, I asked him how he had experienced working with the company’s employees recently. To my delight, he replied: “Now I understand a few things! I am surprised at how friendly the staff have been on the phone recently and how quickly our concerns have been dealt with. I can say with full conviction: something really happened!”

In this blog post, we show you how and with what this company has succeeded in making the change.

Why is cultural change actually so difficult?

Experience shows that culture is a constant element. If it is possible to change them at all, then only over a very long period of time. A rule of thumb is:
It takes 100 days to implement a strategy.
It will take a year to adapt the structures to the new strategy.
Adapting the culture, on the other hand, takes around five years.
One example:
In another company that we support, there was a very authoritarian manager in top management over a decade ago. She had ruled with fear. Even after more than ten years, when the person in question had long since left the company, there was still a sense of fear throughout the company. It even had an impact on people who were hired well after the departure of this manager. Mistakes were still not discussed openly, there was cowering, employees were afraid to contradict. Wild stories were still circulating about the former manager.
This example is a good example of how top management can have a lasting impact on a culture. – And how difficult it is to reposition the company.
>> Read here:
10 simple tips on how to promote innovation in your company

The foundations of a culture

A culture is shaped by the actions, example, decisions and character of top management. The values on which their actions are based, as well as the rules and standards they bring to the company, form a culture. And this is propagated to all levels. Employees are selected and positions filled accordingly. Behavioral patterns emerge, sometimes also fears, which all together shape the corporate culture.
Values only change incredibly slowly – if at all. If employees have already been selected according to the culture when they are hired, this strengthens the existing culture, but makes innovation more difficult. Not only values, but also behavioral patterns and habits are difficult to change, because people love to keep what they are used to. Cultural change is therefore very challenging.

How cultural change succeeds

Let us now turn to the company mentioned at the beginning – and how it successfully implemented a cultural change.
It is a company with almost 500 employees that handles centralized purchasing and logistics for its partner organizations. A customer satisfaction analysis had been carried out in the past. The result was that this unit was perceived as being less customer-oriented.
The management therefore decided to establish a new mission statement: To become the best service provider, deliver great quality and become an innovative company.
The change process began two years ago. The aim of the management was to increase customer orientation and employee motivation so that employees perform their tasks with enthusiasm, high response and good quality. A selection of employees were qualitatively surveyed at the start. This was necessary so that the consultants could first get an open picture of the mood. The result: the employees did not feel valued. The rigid regulations in the company meant that employees felt restricted. They wanted more freedom, more money and more appreciation. The employees also saw a need for flexibility: they wanted flexible working hours and – if possible – working from home. The employees also felt that they were poorly managed.
Now, after two years, the positive feedback from the customer. The employees also say that something has changed. The leadership leads better. Employees are more motivated at work. The change process certainly continues. But we can already say that this is a prime example of cultural change. Why?

The reasons for the success of cultural change.

7 points for everything that was done right:

1) Top management is fully behind the cultural change and also shows it

This is one of the most important points, if not the most important. Change processes are doomed to failure if top management is not aware of them, does not support them, does not get involved or simply does not invest any time in them. As described above, the behavior, character and leadership style of top management have a massive influence on culture. It is therefore not surprising that cultural change can only be achieved if top management is on board and shows its commitment. And of course they should also be prepared to work on themselves. All of this was the case here. Top management and consultants worked very closely together right from the start. At staff meetings and events at the various management levels, the management took the lead and got involved. She also questioned herself. She thus set an example and signaled that she was taking change very seriously and making time for it. This is unusual and certainly one of the biggest success factors.

2) A distinction was made between cause and effect

It was also crucial that a distinction was made between cause and effect. The effect should be: more customer orientation, more employee motivation. It would be one-dimensional to say: “So, dear employees, from now on please be more customer-oriented”. – Or simply organize a customer orientation training course. It is worth looking at the causes. This was done here right from the start. What were the reasons for the lack of motivation? Why did the employees not want to do more than what was contractually agreed? The cause was the perceived lack of appreciation: “If people don’t notice me and my work, why should I make an effort?”. This was the starting point – on the one hand by establishing communication between management and employees, and on the other hand by improving the quality of management. Work was therefore carried out on management in order to improve customer orientation.

3) All employees are involved

All employees and managers – around 40 in number – were permanently involved in the process over the two years. Workshops were held regularly in which management and employees engaged in dialog with each other. There they were able to discuss customer orientation, but also the issues that were going wrong in the department or company and that they wanted to improve. They talked about cooperation at interfaces, about the culture and also about the management of the company. We simply started talking to each other. The workshops focused on: What can employees do? What can the management do? These workshops were not moderated by external consultants, but by the managers themselves. As a result, managers took on a great deal of responsibility for the overall process.

4) Management assumes responsibility

What can be felt in the company is that the quality of leadership improved as a result of management taking responsibility for the change. This happened because the managers realized that the dialogue with the employees was fun. And not only that – the conversations are purposeful and make a difference. The moderation got better with every workshop that the managers moderated. This increased the quality of contact and dialog between management and the team. The managers felt involved and responsible for the process of cultural change.
In the evaluations of the workshops, leadership behavior and the quality of leadership were also scrutinized. And in a pleasant and self-critical way.

5) Successes become visible / regular information and communication is provided

In every change process, a rather pessimistic mood arises at the beginning. The employees grumble: “Great, something like that again”. If the employees have been asked what is not going so well for them and what they would like to see and nothing has happened after four weeks, then the employees are often resigned. “But nothing is changing here!”. This impatience is very typical. In this respect, it is extremely important to make successes visible at a very early stage and to continue to communicate them. Ideally, a communication concept should be established for the entire process. What was done in our example case:
There were and are regular employee events at which employees and departments appear to report on their successes. They talk about what they have done in terms of customer orientation during the workshops. The management also comments and reports on its own topics and changes. Another signal is that things that employees wanted were implemented quickly. Rules that previously applied in the company have been abolished. In this way, it was clearly communicated that something was happening, that progress was being made. This requires targeted planning. You have to think carefully about what is published and when, so that employees get the feeling that something is really moving.

6) The management puts itself to the test

As we have already seen, culture and leadership are inseparable. In this respect, it is important that management also looks at what it can improve itself. In our case, the top management actually underwent an assessment. They took a look at their own strengths and areas for development, questioned their own leadership and looked for ways to improve. All managers in the company took feedback from employees in order to work on themselves and optimize their own leadership. This should now happen regularly: Repeated assessments give employees the opportunity to say what is bothering them. And this should not simply be a grumbling session. Rather, it makes it clear that every employee can and should contribute to a positive, motivating culture in the company and that every employee is responsible.

7) Continuity pays off

Around four out of five change processes fail because the change process fizzles out in the short or medium term after a brilliant start. However, the reason why the process was started is of course still there. This often leads to the next process being started after a while. Then the employees are already a bit hardened: “Again… We’ll get through this too…!”
Our example is different. This cultural change is characterized by regularity. There is no end in sight. – More cultural work than permanent enrichment of working life…

Interested in a cultural change?
We invite you to discuss your own change process with us!

The authors

Oliver Grätsch
Michelle 550
Michelle Templin
Christian Grätsch
Matthias Beikert
Susanne Grätsch
Monika Bt 550x550
Monika Steininger
Kai Hübner
Philipp Andresen 500x550
Philipp Andresen
Dr. Claudia Schmidt
Inga Kühn
Kassandra Knebel
Claudia Lehmann
Anna Isabell Arendt
Komplettes Team

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Berliner Team