Developing a new business strategy is fairly easy. The same goes for a new corporate structure, governance, roles and responsibilities. But many companies overlook the most important lever (and blocker) of successfully implementing all of this. Culture.

Today’s fast-paced digital business environment demands greater collaboration and innovation, not only to remain competitive but also to respond to the changing expectations of the workforce. Companies are rushing to overhaul their strategies in response. When these implementations fail, they do so because insufficient attention is paid to shaping the right corporate culture.

Ultimately, this boils down to people. While changing behaviors and mindsets of people is no ‘walk in the park’, I believe it’s by no means impossible.

What it takes is the 5 Cs of (Corporate) Culture Change: Courage + Coherence + Communication + Co-Creation + Coaching

Scroll down to read more about each C! And don’t forget two additional Cs: in the case of mergers and acquisitions, it’s essential to Connect cultures. And above all, always put your (internal and external) Customers first!

Courage: Make bold moves at the start

A culture shift is difficult, I hear many C-level people say. And that is true. Partly because it needs attention every day and it takes long-term persistence. And… You don’t get measurable results immediately. Too bad… Still, in my opinion, with a bit (more) management Courage it could go easier and faster.

  • Courage to start talking (and walking) values, attitudes… and deciding to invest in a culture shift, just like you decide to invest in new buildings, in new machines, in digital transformation, etc.
  • Courage to really hire for attitude instead of technical skills (only). So really, DON’T hire this IT expert with an incredible track record on his or her CV if they don’t fit at all in your ‘wanna have’ culture!

Attracting people with the right attitude can be a real accelerator to change your company culture

  • Courage to ‘say goodbye’ to some people. We all know (and your employees know it too, by the way) that some people won’t make it… even managers and team leaders! It is better for everyone, including these individuals, that you out-counsel them or shift them into non-leading positions. Role-modelling is a big deal! Positive and negative.

In other words, Courage in taking decisions in favor of the new culture is probably the number 1 Vitamin C leaders need.

Coherence: An integrated approach & focus on making actionable choices

The next C for leadership is linked to decision-making. All decisions should be ‘new culture-fit’. For every strategy and strategic plan, Coherence is key. So the CCO (Chief Culture Officer) or the person in charge of your desired culture shift should sit at the same table as the executive committee and (at the very least) give their insights and opinions about every decision to be made. Also, don’t underestimate your employees. If they don’t see coherence in actions and budget allocations, in promotions and rewards for people who are culture-fit, you can almost forget about it. Therefore, my advice is to make sure the CCO is an external person (interim, consultant…) because much of their advice will be ‘unpopular’, first and foremost with the executive committee.

Tip: Coherence can also mean just stopping certain processes, cancelling certain policies and initiatives. An example that comes to mind? Leadership development. How many times have I seen companies starting a culture transformation journey while the same leadership training programs continue unchanged… Why?

Coherent communication is another key supporting factor. If communication – oral and written – is not consistent, your culture shift will fail!

Communication: The power of the positive!

And this brings us to the 3rd C – Communication. You need a lot, a lot, a lot! And I mean authentic, two-way communication, not just emails please. Based on my experience, I believe that Employer Marketing (HR people need not be afraid of this last word) will grow in the next years. Companies need to start communicating to and conversing with their employees (their internal customers) just as they do with their external customers. Needless to say, new marketing techniques and data driven marketing can be easily applied in-company. So if there are a few skills to add in HR and/or transformation departments, they are certainly marketing & branding skills.

And above all, don’t forget to communicate ‘Why’ people’s habits and behaviors need to change. As Simon Sinek so wisely said, “It starts with why”.

The next C is Co-creation: Aligning top-down and bottom-up in realizable action plans

Although culture shaping starts ‘at the top’, driving any change, and thus also culture change, too much from the top can actually be counterproductive. A recent Accenture study shows that for the lowest-performing change programs, the top leadership was actually heavily involved in implementation, but the problem was a severe disconnect lower down in the organization. The highest-performing change programs involved employees at all levels of the organization in the change.

Engaging workers on an individual basis is important because organizational culture is the sum of all employee behaviors

That is, organizational culture is not created in a leadership off-site on strategic planning. Instead, organizational culture is made up of the mindsets, beliefs, and behaviors of employees throughout the organization who have to implement that strategy on a daily basis.

Furthermore, employees will be more likely to buy into a culture transformation if they helped shape those changes. In other words, changes must have employee ‘fingerprints’ on them, and crowdsourcing approaches can be powerful mechanisms for accomplishing this. Crowdsourcing also enables a company to tap into how culture change can be implemented at micro level and to see what the new behaviors will look like for everyone. After all, being more collaborative might mean very different behaviors in the finance group than in the sales department.

Moreover, crowdsourcing can help a company to tap into people’s creativity and innovativeness. When Zappos, the online shoe and clothing company, was trying to define its corporate culture, CEO Tony Hsieh asked every employee for input on what the company’s core values should be. Then, after Zappos had come up with a list of those values, everyone was asked to change one thing in the company’s policies, documents and processes to make them more aligned to the new values.

And the last C is Coaching: An integrated, inspirational approach that will enable a shift in behaviors and mindsets

One top recommendation: shift (some) training budget to coaching and shift HR resources to coaching too. As we saw in Coherence, culture shift is also about ‘stopping’ some current initiatives/programs/processes. This can be a win-win: by stopping old (culture) practices and releasing resources (time & money) you can invest in real culture transformation initiatives. Specific coaching for leaders, and certainly business unit and team leaders, is also necessary and will boost behavioral change at this level and in their teams.

Tip: Research shows that to change or adopt a behavior, it needs to be practiced 30 times. I highly recommend Accenture’s 30-Day Challenge tool: a great way to kick-start culture change via a series of short daily actions on a customizable digital platform! Discover why the Bank of Ireland accepted our 30-Day Challenge and what happened as a result

More insights? Read Accenture’s New rules for culture change. Understanding what drives culture change can make all the difference between transformations that fail and those that succeed

Ready to take action? Feel free to contact me to discuss how we can support you to kick-start and realize a sustainable culture shift in your organization.