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Culture Renovation: 18 Leadership Actions to Build an Unshakeable Company


Culture has a direct impact on a company’s stock value and productivity. To ignore culture – or let it look after itself – is to neglect a major influencer of a business’ viability. Multiple studies have proven this time and again. Kevin Oakes, the author of Culture Renovation and co-founder of i4cp, the Institute for Corporate Productivity, provides readers with 18 progressive steps for implementing a culture renovation that will bring the desired results for businesses of any kind.


Backed by sound data and illustrated with case studies and company stories that bring each step to life, Culture Renovation provides leaders with a solid playbook for creating organizational cultures that will lead them to competitive advantages, unlock the full potential of their workforce, and rehumanize workplaces. In a time when employees are looking for companies that can deliver positive, holistic experiences and provide an avenue for serving a higher purpose than simply increasing shareholder value, culture is more important than ever.


Demonstrating how your organization’s culture builds people up is the new gold standard. After painting a vivid picture of what culture can achieve, the author launches into the nuts and bolts of exactly how to change organizational cultures. Following the classic renovation pattern, the book is broken into three key stages – Plan, Build, and Maintain. Readers learn exactly how to start a culture renovation, what’s needed to stay on track, and why maintaining organizational culture will serve the business and its employees into the future.


Planning company culture

As with all successful renovation projects, it pays to begin with a plan. When it comes to renovating cultures, the first step in planning is understanding where the organizational culture stands. This will enable the path to the desired culture to be plotted accurately. A major part of this involves actively listening to employees and customers and asking the right questions to draw out perceptions of the company’s culture.


Active and ongoing, listening to employee and customer sentiment is imperative for companies that aim to have productive, inclusive, and psychologically safe businesses that respond and adapt quickly to changing market needs. However, listening is only part of the equation in culture renovation plans – acting upon the insights gained is a must, no matter what those insights are.


Setting a course for a new culture involves identifying the company’s goals and purpose. This then needs to be encapsulated in a simple statement that resonates with the workforce and helps to guide future decision-making. Great culture renovations preserve the positive and fundamental elements of the business. These threads of the past need to be woven into the business story about its future aspirations and who it will become. In doing so, a cohesive picture of what the business was and what it aims to be is created. This in turn, provides an inspiring purpose for employees that also captures the ‘why’ of the organization succinctly and wholeheartedly.


Culture renovation starts at the top with the dissemination of the company’s purpose. Authentic and transparent leadership is then used to move culture renovations from the planning stage to implementation – arguably the most fraught stage of culture change.


Building a new culture

If people are the engine of a business, their diversity, creativity, activity, and ideas are the rocket fuel. Once the culture a company wants to develop has been defined, the behaviors that support it need to be clarified.


Without embedding desired, culture-supporting behaviors into systems and processes, culture change efforts are unlikely to succeed. Performance management review processes, employee recognition programs, and learning and development schemes are some of the key areas that must be considered when encouraging new behaviors.


Ten examples of cultures and their supporting behaviors are provided by the author with the note that it is common for businesses to embody more than one type – however, it is rare for a company to exhibit all ten. For example, leadership traits that support inclusive cultures embrace sincerity and cooperation while employee traits involve diversity, collaboration, and a focus on relationships.


Along with identifying the supporting behaviors of the desired culture, influencers, energizers, connectors, and blockers within the employee community should also be acknowledged. Wherever possible influencers and energizers should be recruited to the culture change cause as they can become key ambassadors for change. Just as important as identifying and recruiting influencers is the process of identifying and removing blockers. People who are not behind the new direction of the business can stymie change efforts and should be removed swiftly to avoid failure.


Oakes recommends an Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) to help identify key influencers who can be recruited to the culture change cause and help to expedite the process. ONAs are also helpful for exposing silos, units that collaborate well, and where to focus efforts for the biggest and fastest impact. Identifying key players within an organization for culture change efforts can mean the difference between success and failure.


Along with behaviors and influencers, leaders will do well to define indicators of what a successful culture renovation will look like and use these to monitor progress. Understanding what to measure and how to measure it can be difficult. Helpfully, the author has detailed guidance for common culture change measures that are not tied to the industry or specific business attributes.


Maintaining company culture

Culture change is not a destination; rather, it is an ongoing process that requires constant attention and tweaking of processes. As recently as 2020, the US SEC mandated that public companies must report on human capital metrics that have an impact on profitability. These new requirements are creating increasing demand for high-level HR skills and many organizations are responding by recruiting CHROs to their senior leadership teams. This change in leadership teams is a positive for the workplaces of tomorrow – combining strategy plans with human capital knowledge and processes that power those plans is a recipe for success.


Culture is based on the behaviors of the people living, breathing, and working it. Companies who leverage their leaders as teachers can embed behaviors that support the desired culture faster and more effectively. This approach has the added benefits of enhancing leader’s self-awareness, appreciation of talent within the organization and broadens their understanding of the differing opinions throughout the business.


Onboarding processes provide another opportunity to build and maintain a company’s culture. Onboarding methods that last for just a month or less and focus on paperwork and red tape miss an important chance to establish desired employee behaviors, relationships, and knowledge that supports a newly created culture. Building a new hire’s network within an organization speeds their indoctrination, improves productivity, and increases retention considerably.


Similarly, performance management processes can be used to reinforce culture while increasing efficiencies, transparency, and organizational - as well as individual - success.


Effective talent mobility programs are one of the most effective and underutilized organizational development and culture enhancement techniques at a company’s disposal. More than simply moving people from one department to another, talent mobility programs include the lateral movement of employees so they can round out their skills in complementary areas, promotions, and moving someone ‘down’ in order for them to move ‘up’ faster.


Talent sharing between companies found a new lease of life in the early days of the pandemic when several key CHROs got together to match laid-off and furloughed workers with businesses who were experiencing a sharp spike in demand that necessitated fast hiring. This talent-sharing approach is likely to become a normal practice in the future. Employee capabilities will be recorded and categorized in databases in a way that is reminiscent of stats on the back of baseball cards.


Talent sharing can be contained within business partnerships to deliver benefits to each organization as well as employees. Amazon and the US Navy, Boeing, and Callaway Golf are two examples in which talent sharing has benefited the worker with unique development opportunities and each organization with wider scope for talent development and the improvement of their business processes.


Company culture is now gaining the recognition it deserves for influencing value and productivity. Understanding how to consciously develop and direct a company’s culture is a key part of the CEO and senior leadership team’s role. Kevin Oakes’ Culture Renovation does an excellent job of outlining why and how leaders can influence culture and shows this continual process is a most worthy endeavor for those who wish to guide their businesses to future wellbeing and profit.

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