New Year, New You, Same ol' Culture?

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According to Forbes, 2022 will be a year to focus on workplace culture. Entering into a new year allows time to reflect on how our organizations adapted to the exponential changes brought on by the pandemic. Companies that took the lessons learned from the challenges of the past two years to implement positive changes within their orgs can build stronger workplace culture in which everyone can thrive. What do you want your workplace culture to be like in this new year? 


A new year is a fresh start and inspiration to create meaningful change. In this seemingly magical time of endless possibility and hope, we envision the great things that will unfold throughout the year. We make plans, set goals, and create strategies for success. But unfortunately, within weeks of a new year, momentum is often lost, plans get shoved to the back burner, goals get pushed aside, and strategies are forgotten. It is no secret that change is hard and requires commitment, but missteps and mistakes can quickly squash even the best of intentions. 


The main reason culture change does not take hold is failure to commit. Without the commitment from leaders, managers, and employees, change is impossible. To achieve sustainable, meaningful change, you must commit on all levels: financially, mentally, strategically, and personally. But even when everyone is all in, there can be mistakes that can trigger setbacks or total failure. 


As you and your organization embark on a new year and focus on creating a new workplace culture, I want to share DH Culture Chief and Lead Coach|sulant Sunny Grosso's 10 mistakes to avoid when implementing workplace culture change. Sunny has been inspiring organizations worldwide, working with hundreds of teams, and is leading the charge for more purposeful organizations that create better human experiences leading to more extraordinary business results.


1. Not Starting with Me


It is impossible to inspire change if you refuse to change. Change has to begin with leadership, from the top down. As a leader, it is your responsibility to model change that will influence and encourage your team to commit to changing the culture too. 


Change should be intricacy-driven. This takes reflection and self-awareness. As a leader committed to your personal growth, you will stay inspired as you inspire others because you did the work on yourself first. By doing this, you will be authentically true to yourself while encouraging your employees to be authentically true to themselves. 


2. Lack of Leader Alignment


In the best-selling book Beyond Happiness, Jenn Lim uses starlings as an example of perfect alignment. These birds graceful fly through the sky in synchronized patterns, a perfect picture of alignment. Alignment happens when everyone can answer "what's in it for me" and "what's in it for all." From an organizational design perspective, alignment happens when individual purpose, values, and behaviors [PVB] come together. Purpose is the goal, values and behaviors are the rules to achieve the goal. 


It is imperative to slow down and have conversations about what change means to create a shared vision of the culture change. Work through conflicting ideas, discuss what the change will look like and how it will be achieved. Everyone on the leadership team should understand and be able to explain what the change will be, why it needs to happen, and how it will be executed.  


3. Underestimating Communication


Start communication from the why level, not what is changing or how to change but why the change is important. Why is the intention and impact to everything. Explain to your team the purpose that is driving the decision for change. Once your employees understand the why behind a decision, it is easier to commit to it. 


Over-communicate [both ways]. Many organizations create a beautiful, exciting vision for their culture, purpose, or values but fail to communicate it to the entire team. The why needs to be said in every way possible, speaking each group's language, so everyone understands it. But remember that communication is not just one-sided. As a leader, you must also employ active listening. What are the challenges people are having with understanding the change? What are the fears? Where is information being heard, and not?


Communicate back what you are hearing from your team. They need to know it's safe to take the risk and put the energy into changing. It sends the message that they are seen and heard. It builds psychological safety.


4. Not Co-Owning Change


When culture change happens, the process often becomes top-down and placed solely on the leader's shoulders. Leaders feel the burden of caring the momentum for change. While change does need to be top-down [start with me], it also needs to be bottom-up. This gives autonomy and control, empowering others in your organization to be the drivers of change. 


Push co-ownership early and often, and then show up to support the energy and ideas. Support your culture team and managers who are closer to the change consistently and persistently. 


5. Failure to Celebrate Small Wins


Keep inspiration and momentum going by celebrating the small habit changes that add to significant organizational changes. The key to sustainable, lasting change is momentum which comes from a sense of progress that builds resilience and creates more momentum. Celebrating the small changes ensures your team is on the right track. 


Failure will happen. You will venture off the path, make mistakes, and experience setbacks. All these things come with change. Celebrating the wins when you get them to build resilience, social cohesion and step back on the right path with new energy to learn and adapt.


6. Overlook the Root of the Change 


It is essential to celebrate the small wins, but only focusing on short-term wins is a mistake. Change is impossible when you only spend time creating values and a higher purpose statement, slap them on the walls, and celebrate but don't address underlying issues and problems. If you don't change behaviors and the root cause of why change is needed, you will lose trust within your organization. 


Organizations are made up of humans, and as humans, we do not like change and are very slow to adopt it. To achieve sustainable change that lasts and shapes our organization, we have to treat it like a human habit. Many small human habits add up to big change. 


7. Not Living Your Culture 


You put so much time and money into creating culture change; you teach it to your employees, slap it on the wall, and move on. It will not become embedded in your organization. Your team will not live the culture. Culture is constantly growing and changing, so continue looking at the values and purpose. Your entire team should be able to recite the values, behaviors, and purpose in everything they do. They should be able to take the PVB in their minds and hearts to live the culture authentically. 


8. Not Changing Operations to Support Change


Operations can enable or hinder change. For example, your company's value is connection, you may encourage your leadership team to spend time connecting with their team. However, if you fail to adjust operational needs to allow leaders to devote time to connect with their team, your endeavors will fail. Not adjusting operations to support change can lead to burnout, disengagement, and dissatisfaction. 


9. Leaving Out Middle Management


Managers are the #1 reason people stay or leave a company. Culture change often comes from the top leaders and bottom culture teams but can leave out middle management. Just as change needs to be personal to leaders, it must also be personal to middle managers. Help your managers understand what culture change means for their role and allow them to take ownership of the change. 


10. Not Creating an Environment to Change [Environment to Fail]


Change is messy, hard, real, and human. No one excels in change in the beginning. There will be challenges, failures, and setbacks. As a leader, you need to create a safe space for your team to try and fail. This will allow them to speak up and speak out about what is working and what's not. Welcome their feedback [or feedforward as we like to say] and grow forward. An creating an environment to change gives a space for people to be vulnerable, bold, and courageous-must haves for truly lasting change. 


Change begins with one small act. Take the first step to changing your workplace culture with DH's Leadership Alignment Workshop.  

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About the Author

Amanda Marksmeier

Amanda is the Growth Content Driver at DH. She has been writing and creating engaging content for nearly five years. She loves to use words to inspire and connect with people. Amanda thrives on helping and serving others through the power of the written word. She is always on the search for new and inventive ways to reach and educate others.


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