Can You “Turn the Titanic?”

I had a conversation with a former teammate of mine about culture change last week.  We were discussing the much overused phrase “turning the Titanic” as it applies to changing organizational culture.

So many people seem to believe that is too hard and too slow to make a meaningful change in culture of their organization.  Some managers focus instead on more policies, more process – more rules.  Others just resign themselves to the current situation.

I want to challenge that belief.  We all know great leaders who have created highly engaged teams within organizations that have less than stellar cultures.   What are they doing right?

Leaders constantly communicate a compelling view of the culture.

Why is this great place to work?  Is the team great at identifying and capitalizing on future trends?  Is it a flexible environment that allows work life balance?  Is it a place where team members can grow their careers?  Leaders who are creating a culture are intentional about how they talk about their organization.  Sometimes, these conversations are a bit aspirational.  That’s OK.  Get the conversation started.

Leaders model and embody the culture making it tangible to everyone.

Let me give you a real life example of how it doesn’t work.  In a team where “trust” was listed as a core value, a front line supervisor asked her team to provide a doctor’s note if they missed a day of work.  The organizational policy was that a doctor’s note was required after a 3-day absence.  Do you think there was a culture of trust on this team?  The people on your team, in your organization, really are watching.  If you tell them that it is important to innovate, you should be out there taking smart risks.  And you should help them navigate the political environment to get some of their innovative ideas implemented.

Leaders hire people with personal values aligned to the culture.

These leaders identify the values that are critical to the success of their team and integrate those values into their hiring process.  Think about a company that deploys large cross functional teams to implement new IT systems.  It is critical to leaders in that business to find candidates with great technical skills.  It is just as important to hire people who demonstrate teamwork.  So a successful leader will interview for technical skills and teamwork.  Maybe she will ask about experiences where the candidate has been a member of a team that has had to work together to reach a common goal or how they approach goals where they have a lot of cross functional dependencies.  The candidate will need to demonstrate both the technical skills and values alignment to get an offer.

teamwork.engagementLeaders with engaged teams look at not only what people do, but how they do it.  That point of view can be applied to every role, every industry, and it can change your culture for the better.

Are you trying to build a high performing culture on your team or in your organization?  What are you doing to turn the Titanic?

©2012 Melissa Lanier – All Rights Reserved

2 responses to “Can You “Turn the Titanic?”

  1. Pingback: Can You Afford NOT to Assess Your Culture? | HR Outsider·

  2. Pingback: Organizational Culture: Are You Taking It to the Next Level? | HR Outsider·

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