If you ditch culture, you ditched your leadership!

by | Apr 2, 2024 | 0 comments

By Shatha Al Maskiry

Reality Today
The COVID-19 pandemic, industry disruptions, and the changing social environment compelled leaders to manage and lead differently. We saw many organizational transformation projects surface; a new strategy, new business model, lean processes, adoption of digital technologies, or changing the way employees work. The pandemic-imposed changes on us that even forced the laggards to pivot as they were at risk of quickly becoming obsolete.

Why did transformation projects fail?
Workplace politics hinders the success of transformation projects because there are leaders who instill fear in employees. Fear creates a toxic environment – and employees will stay silent to stay out of trouble, middle management will get frustrated because they feel powerless, upper management will worry more about their position, so they say nothing, and then leaders moan that nobody communicated the issues to them. The pandemic amplified cultural issues and talented employees left the leaders who undermined the major problems in their organization. The great resignation is of no surprise as it was due to toxic culture, novel ideas of employees were shot down, their wellbeing was ignored, or they just did not get the respect they deserved.

On technical grounds, some leaders focused on what is on paper (i.e. achieve corporate KPIs) rather than seeing the reality on the ground (i.e. effective implementation). This put employees on edge to achieve impossible goals within aggressive timelines which led to unethical conduct, increased tension, decreased productivity and even mental health issues.

Transformation initiatives will fail in realizing its envisioned returns if there is a false belief that we cannot change a culture. Doing nothing means reinforcing existing issues such as the absence of shared values, weak leadership, poor communication, and toxic behaviors that linger in the legacy culture such as nepotism and lack of transparency. 

We need to foster an adaptive culture by appreciating employees’ needs and expectations but also seeing the opportunities that a good culture offers. Culture is not an enigma; we experience it every day in every interaction we have. We see it, hear it, and feel it. If leaders do not address toxic culture, it will unquestionably damage employee’s morale and productivity as well as the organization’s growth and sustainability.

Excel with culture transformation
To enhance the success rates of transformation projects, take the following steps: 

  • Assess and identify the current cultural barriers: there are methodical ways to achieve this. 
  • Culture is for everyone: employees of every generation and their unique needs and expectations matter. This includes customers and the entire network of relationships.
  • Identify new values which leverage diversity: align it with the values of employees to enhance mutual respect and trust. 
  • Translate the values into desired behaviors: help employees visualize them so they can live it and commit to a common purpose. 
  • Cultivate a safe space: for innovation, lateral collaboration, flexibility, and agility. Also, welcome constructive feedback in an inclusive manner from all age groups to inspire critical thinking and problem solving.
  • Amend the HR policies and processes to embed the new culture: you will need to do things differently in recruitment, assessment, training and rewarding so employees express and embody new behaviors. 
  • Drive authentic communication to earn trust: employees resist change because they fear the unknown. Start with the ‘Why!’ – ‘why is there a need for a change and what are the consequences if we do not change?’. It is worth investing in a communication agency to professionally brand and promote your initiative. Communication has to be activated from ground zero by leadership– and be the face, voice and role model for cultural change. Also, appoint culture champions to help drive the change. 
  • Leaders, get out of your offices – listen, communicate, energize, mentor, and empower your employees. HumaniSe the experience, make your interactions informal, give the hidden gems the time they deserve and do not sideline the outspoken individuals. Welcome all, celebrate small wins and individual achievements so we can march towards breakthroughs. This is how we earn employee loyalty and commitment.
  • Culture is complex, it does not change overnight – it can take a year or two or three but the best way is to leverage the positive forces of the legacy culture and weave it with the desired culture. 
  • Consistency is the magic wand as culture is not a one off initiative or effort. Culture is in our words, actions, interactions, and decisions. It is the energy everyone feels. Leaders must walk the talk and create a humanizing experience through continuous communication, coaching and celebration.
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