By Paul Glatzhofer, Vice President, Talent Solutions
A positive organizational culture is essential if you want your company to succeed in the marketplace today. If you want to drive positive culture change in your organization, you may be aware that this is a major undertaking. But the good news is, it’s possible — with the efforts of dedicated leaders.
Positive change must begin at the top. When helping people embrace positive change, leaders can often fall into a few major pitfalls. Understanding these common leadership mistakes can help you avoid them so you can help your people embrace positive culture change.
1. Rushing change
Culture change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time — often several years — to really achieve. It’s best, then, to take a long-term view when it comes to grappling with and implementing change.
You may be doing this at higher levels within your organization but not with your employees. Often, leaders are afforded time to talk through changes before rolling them out to the rest of the org, but they don’t afford that same time and space for employees to come to terms with change.
Don’t expect employees to automatically buy in. They need time to adapt and understand the change. You may need to roll out changes in stages rather than bombarding employees with too much change at once. You should approach culture change with the same level of intent and strategic planning as you dedicate to other initiatives in your organization.
2. Undersharing information
Another major issue is a lack of transparency from leaders regarding culture change. Leaders simply cannot overcommunicate when it comes to these times of transition. Employees want to know what’s going on, why it’s happening, and how it affects them.
Leaders must offer explanations for these concerns. For instance, if the organization is working on enhancing its approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), leaders should explain not only how this will play out but why they’re putting a greater emphasis on DEI.
According to Gallup, leaders who explain “how changes made today will affect their organization in the future” have employees who report higher levels of engagement, well-being, clear and reasonable work expectations, and confidence in the company’s future.1
3. Failing to listen
Another crucial component of communication is listening. Getting employees’ buy-in should always involve some open dialogue, not just one-way, top-down communication. Some leaders may tend toward a more traditional style of leadership that is autocratic, but a people-centered leadership style that prioritizes trust has been shown to be more effective.
People want to feel heard and valued by their leaders, not simply ordered around by them. Research even shows a connection between feeling heard and being engaged at work. A global employee survey found that 92 percent of highly engaged employees feel heard at their workplace compared to just 30 percent of highly disengaged employees.2
Leaders should be open to hearing from their employees and finding out how they feel about changes, what they need to feel empowered to implement changes, and where they may have concerns or a lack of clarity. Don’t count on employees to bring their thoughts to you on their own; it’s best to schedule listening sessions, send out a survey, or use some other means to proactively elicit feedback.
4. Neglecting emotions
Another problem many leaders are guilty of is focusing solely on the head and not the heart when it comes to change. While the practical aspects of change are important, this focus can leave out a critical aspect of what actually makes culture change successful or unsuccessful: human emotion.
Consider how in tune you are to your employees’ emotional states. If they were experiencing anxiety amid culture change initiatives, for instance, would you detect that? Emotional intelligence is a key skill for effective leadership, and that’s as true as ever when it comes to driving positive culture change.
Employees have to feel motivated to embrace change, not just on an intellectual level but on an emotional one. For instance, if you want to make your culture more collaborative, employees need to feel excited to engage in more collaboration with their coworkers. Leaders can drive this motivation by ensuring employees understand the why behind change and by allowing space for true buy-in to happen through some of the ways we’ve discussed.
5. Failing to model the change
Leaders must also ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to culture change. One of the most effective ways to promote change is to model it so employees see what these new attitudes or approaches should look like in practicality.
In many ways, leaders set the tone for their teams, so positive change must start with them. A 2018 study found that leaders shape their followers’ initial beliefs (and contributions) very strongly, suggesting that “the leader’s initial behavior has long-lasting effects” when it comes to promoting prosocial behaviors.3
If you want your people to embrace positive change, you have to embody that positive change in your own attitudes and actions.