There are three key steps leaders should take in order to drive culture change and make it stick, according to a report.

Driving culture change ranks among the top three global leadership development priorities, and culture is no longer seen as an afterthought when considering the business focus of an organisation, said Noah Rabinowitz, senior partner and global head of the leadership development practice for Hay Group, which conducted the report.

“Culture is the X-factor,” he said.

“It’s the invisible glue that holds an organisation together and ultimately makes the difference between whether an organisation is able to succeed in the market or not.”

The Real World Leadership report, which took in more than 7,500 executives from 107 countries, suggested that organisations need to make culture change a more significant aspect of their leadership development programs and overall leadership agenda.

“Culture is the X-factor”

“Culture change occurs, ultimately, when a critical mass of individuals adopt new behaviours consistent with their organisation’s strategic direction,” said Rabinowitz.

“Leadership development can be the most effective tool to change behaviours. And when leaders change their behaviours, others do so, too.”

The report said the three steps organisations need to take in order to make culture change stick are:

1. Align top leaders.
To help create buy-in and support, organisations must involve their top leadership in assessing the current culture and defining the desired culture.

Senior leaders then must articulate the culture change and make employees understand the new culture, the reasons for it, and why it is critical to achieve the organisation’s goals.

2. Change practices and processes.
Everything the organisation does should be evaluated against the new strategy and desired culture change.

Hiring decisions, leadership development, and business processes and practices should change to reflect the values of the desired culture.

3. Change behaviours and rewards.
Leaders should embody the new culture in their behaviours and actions, making employees understand how the culture looks and feels in the workplace.

Compensation, rewards, and employee recognition programs should be aligned to the new culture and strategy.

“Everything that we do contributes to the culture. There’s no culture-neutral behaviour”

The research report underscored the critical role that leaders play in steering culture, and executives reported the most widely used strategy to improve culture is communication, followed by leadership development, and embedding culture change in management objectives.

In addition, the study found that improving organisational alignment and collaboration is the primary reason executives choose to focus on improving culture, followed by improving organisational performance.

However, alignment between strategy and culture is more often the exception than the rule in most organisations.

In a 2014 Korn Ferry survey, 72 per cent of respondents agreed that culture is extremely important to organisational performance, however, only 32 per cent said their culture aligns with their business strategy.

“We believe that talent, leadership, and culture are intrinsically linked, and they are crucial to strategic execution,” said Arvinder Dhesi, senior client partner with Hay Group.

“It’s a mistake for top leaders to believe that culture is somehow separate from themselves or a separate project.

“Everything that we do contributes to the culture. There’s no culture-neutral behaviour.”

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