How to Lead a Culture Change When You’re an Employee

How to Lead a Culture Change When You’re an Employee

graphic illustrating points on a culture change

Over the past few months we’ve been hosting a number of webinars on building and creating a strong company culture. The reasons for these webinars was to support businesses going through radical changes to their culture, and how they can thrive during the covid-19 crisis.  

However, one thing we didn’t realise was how many employees would take part in these webinars as well. Does this sound like you? 

We can’t deny that we are all now becoming more aware of the impact of company culture, not only on our personal performance, but on our sense of belonging in an organisation, and how connected we feel to our colleagues. 

When we spend eight hours a day, five days a week, somewhere along the line that culture is going to rub off on us – whether that’s in a positive or a negative way.  

In fact, recent research has shown that since the outbreak of coronavirus, a third of workers in the UK feel disconnected from their organisation’s company culture. 

graphic of company culture quote by simon sinek

Since the outbreak, we’ve had conversations with businesses and individuals who don’t want to go back to “the way things were.” 

We’ve seen how different our lives can feel when we’re not sat in traffic, rushing for a train, or stuck in a grey office that does nothing for our creativity. 

Instead, for most of us, we’ve seen that work can still happen at home. That work can work well alongside family commitments and our lifestyles. And that we don’t have put in long hours and sacrifice our health in order to be great at our jobs. 

But what happens if some businesses are not seeing this as a chance for change, but instead just a blip in time? Something everyone’s just going to ‘get over’. 

For those employees who have flourished during the quiet time of lockdown, and who want to use this as an opportunity to make ‘work-life’ great again, it can be frustrating knowing that your company culture needs to change, but you don’t have the ‘authority’ or the ‘role’ to make those changes. 

As we’ve spoken to many of these passionate culture ambassadors over the past few months, we felt it was about time we revealed what actions you can take, ‘as an employee’, to make significant culture changes in your company.

graphic of woman holding up a sign

First you’ve got to know why?

With all the best intentions in the world, you can’t change anything until you have a better understanding as to how and why it got there in the first place. 

As we have mentioned before, company culture exists, even in organisations that don’t have a clear mission or purpose. Culture is essentially created by the actions, behaviours and attitudes of those within the business – very often, company culture is conceived at the very start of a business, from the actions and behaviours of the founders.  

In order to start getting to know your existing culture look at some of the actions, behaviours and attitudes that you see present themselves, and get curious as to why these may exist. 

Do these behaviours exist because they have come from the top, is there a sense of complacency because the organisation hasn’t followed through on particular matters,  or has the rate of growth meant that hiring has been sporadic and ill-executed, leaving a disjointed team? 

There could be so many reasons why your current company culture exists. Yes, even right down to the frustrating – ‘because it’s always been done this way’ – excuse. 

Take some time to begin an investigation in your own company culture, and start to look much deeper at why the organisation, maybe unconsciously, encourages such behaviours or actions.

graphic of employee and leader

Get to know your leaders

The leaders in the business have to be onboard with a culture change – otherwise, it merely gives anyone an excuse to not to follow it or work on their habits—the old “well he doesn’t so why should I” situation. 

Everyone has to be onboard with your culture change, which means you have to get all key stakeholders involved. 

The first step in understanding where your leaders sit when it comes to company culture is getting to know their motivations, and what’s driving them. 

To keep it simple and not over complicate the matter, leaders motivations often sit in two categories. 

Some leaders are purely driven by financial success and monetary gain. They perhaps crunch numbers regularly and are keen to keep a firm eye on what’s going in and out of the business. However, there is always a reason behind the numbers. Many leaders find safety and security in doing this. 

Other leaders are driven by purpose and personal experience. They’ve perhaps already seen what it’s like to be in a negative company culture. Perhaps they’ve even personally experienced burnout and don’t want to create that same environment for their team. Yes, truly, there are many leaders out there who want to do the ‘right thing’. 

Now your leader’s motivations will not be as clear-cut as this. Some financially focussed leaders will still want to do the right thing. But you get the picture. You have to really get to know your leaders and what is driving them. 

It may even be useful to think of your leaders as your target customer. In order to be able to ‘sell in’ a culture change, you have to know who you’re influencing. 

Approach them with empathy, curiosity and understanding. 

Now I know what you’re thinking – but how on earth do I discover what’s motivating my leader? 

Well, this is the part where you have to start initiating conversations and seeing what their response is. This could be very simple questions, that reveal a lot, such as; 

  • What inspired you to start the business? 
  • What’s the big goal you want the organisation to achieve this year, and why?
  • What books are you reading at the moment, I’m looking to increase my personal and professional development and always looking for suggestions?  
graphic of two people holding the world

Find your tribe

Once you’ve got to know where your leader lies in terms of a culture change, it’s time to find your tribe of people who will help you create a movement. 

A leader must be ‘in’ on the culture change, but only the people can be the driving force behind it. After all, it’s the people on the ground who have to feel motivated and excited by the culture change to really begin to change habits and take action. 

You may already have a few colleagues in mind who you know are passionate about company culture, but do a little digging to see who else has got ideas about how the company culture can be improved. 

One thing to ensure at this part is you don’t just create a negative movement by focussing on all the negative attributes of the existing culture. You need to come from a place of growth and positivity. 

Highlight some of your ideas about the company culture to your colleagues and see what kind of reaction you get. Do they buy into your ideas or suggest alternatives, or do they just dismiss it and say things like, “that will never happen.” 

Present case studies

Once you know you have some key buy-in for some culture improvements, now is the time to put the work in and begin building your case. 

Ultimately, you need one or two things to happen. Either, you want to create a ‘culture club’ from the leader that gives you autonomy to build a group of people who can come together regularly to discuss culture improvements, or you want to be able to encourage the leader to take culture seriously. 

From experience, your culture improvements should come from a collective. Leaders have to be just as much a part of the collaborative effort as the people. 

If making a culture change is completely new to your organisation, then it’s best to initially present strong case studies of other businesses in your sector that are doing it really well. This can stimulate a strong case, as your business leader may feel that the company is missing a trick with their employer brand and not becoming as competitive as they should be. 

There are SO many companies in a variety of industries doing company culture well. Getting searching for ones in your sector who are making waves, and illustrate these to your leader.

Provide the data

Unfortunately, it’s true that some companies need cold hard facts before they put time or money towards improving their company culture. It’s just the way it is! 

For this to be effective, you should look at a mixture of data sets. 

The first set of data should be about the link between company culture and business success. We wrote a blog about this a while ago here, on the nine biggest statistics on company culture, so grab some from there to get you started. 

The second data set should be specific to your company.

This should include any current performance statistics you can get hold of, plus conducting an anonymous survey on current employee engagement.

Once you have these two data sets, you can compare them. For example, your KPI’s are currently X amount; your employee engagement level is X amount. If you can increase your engagement level through culture, you could see an x increase in performance. 

To get the exact figures, use some of the data that is widely available. 

Remember, there may not be an immediate increase as culture changes take time. But this at least gives you a figure you can work towards. 

Alternatively, you can always look at recruitment costs and retention rates as these figures are often enough to scare any business in setting aside some time to work on their culture.

graphic illustration of woman telling a story

Tell a story

Hands up if you love a TED talk as much as we do? 

And do you know why that is? – Because we love hearing stories and experiences from others. We learn not only more about ourselves but also about being human. 

With this in mind, if you have a leader who is highly aspirational, you may want to conduct your very own TED-style talk to reveal why company culture has become so important in our modern world of work.  Or maybe, just do a talk about what it means and feels like not to have a company culture. 

If you don’t think a story from yourself or one of the team will encourage them to make a culture change, perhaps get in a third party speaker who can reveal some experiences and stories. At Liberty Mind, we’ve conducted a number of talks in companies about company culture to help ignite a culture change and make people understand the importance of culture to our work performance and human wellbeing.

Be experimental

So you’ve got a great idea for your company culture, but you have no idea if it’s going to work? 

That’s great! 

You never know until you try. Some of the most successful companies in the world took a risk with some of their culture changes, but it paid off because they took action and learned quickly. 

If you get the go-ahead to become a culture ambassador, be bold with your changes, and treat each new idea as an experiment. Nothing is ever set in stone, so be curious and get people to give you feedback and suggestions to keep it feeling fresh. This is also what helps you to make your company culture unique. 

Accept some businesses won’t change

After you’ve followed all these steps and the business is still resistant to a culture change I’m afraid there’s nothing we can offer you. In life, as in business, some people are simply too scared to try new things or don’t understand why they should change in the first place. 

If after months and months of using these techniques, you see no movement. No budget, no time, no responsibility is taken, then it’s time to stop pushing. 

When this happens,  you have to come to a place of acceptance. One person alone cannot do a culture change; it takes a team. 

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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.