Culture Change is about your Managers, not HR


Modern, fast moving environments urge companies to be adaptable and innovative.  Accelerated technological capabilities continue to shape our workplace dynamics, pushing businesses to be the best that they can be.  Business leaders are thus driven to consider the complex anatomy of one’s corporate culture and how to best evolve them for the changing global climate.

It takes time, rigor, honest debate and consideration of the tradeoffs for any strong executive leadership team to establish their corporate values.  But this is critical to any fast growing, dynamic organization. What ultimately emerges is deep clarity about your organization’s current and desired culture -- and what it will take to get there.  

Sometimes posters get made, other times these values get tagged onto already cumbersome performance management processes.  Occasionally organizations create employee groups to help make progress on the cultural renewal.

But where do most organizations tend to fall short?  Simply put, most cultural initiatives end up being “owned” by HR and fail to involve managers at every level to embrace, promote and facilitate the changes that need to happen.

These managers already have competing priorities, yet their involvement is essential for your ideal culture to be realized.  When managers aren’t completely aligned or involved with the organizational culture change, employees can hear mixed messages and feel conflicting priorities.

What can be done to involve managers and make cultural changes stick?

1.  Involve managers (and also employees-- but that’s another blog!).  While the leadership team will drive the desired culture changes, it’s imperative to solicit feedback and input from the front line to make sure that what you’re building is both worthwhile and achievable.  When you incorporate their feedback, it will accelerate buy-in and tackle skepticism.

2.  Provide clear communications expectations.  Don’t assume that all managers know your expectations for sharing information with their team -- this is especially true for your new managers.  Create clarity for every manager. Questions you should consider answering:

       - How frequently should they meet with their team, and what do you want them to say about the intentional culture?

       - How should they communicate and engage with change champions?

       - How should they surface resistance to cultural change, and how should they address it?

3.  Cascade messages. Equip your managers (at every level) to share messages on expectations, why it matters and how their team is essential to the organizational change success.  Tailor specific communications for your managers to leverage and use during team meetings and one-on-one, so they are best to understand both the what and the why, and they are prepared to address questions and reduce ambiguity.

Working through culture change and involving all your managers is no easy feat.  Ensuring they stick and remain relevant is the true challenge. Your managers are your unique competitive advantage and can be fully leveraged to uphold your fast growing, dynamic company culture.


Catherine Malloy Cummings

20 N Upper Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL, 60606, United States