change company culture

Leaders who want to change company culture usually focus on behaviors. It’s pretty easy for them to rattle off a list of behaviors they’d like as part of their organization’s culture. Things like partnership, accountability, teamwork, and service often come up in the conversations we’ve had with clients, but focusing on the behaviors is putting the cart before the horse. If behaviors are going to stick long-term, it’s crucial to look beyond the surface of behaviors and dig into beliefs.

Behaviors are driven by beliefs. If you believe something, it influences how you behave. For example, if you believe your health is important, then you will behave in ways that support your belief – perhaps by exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet. Your doctor or spouse can pester you to eat right and go to the gym, but if you don’t have a belief about your health, then you probably won’t commit the time and energy to behave in a way that supports it.

Long Term Results Require a Shift in Beliefs

The same is true in organizations. Leaders often start by telling employees how to behave. However, if employees don’t have beliefs to support the behaviors, nothing will be sustainable. Employees will stop listening when they feel like they’re being nagged, and it will definitely sound like nagging if you’re telling them how to behave without addressing beliefs. You might see a temporary shift in behaviors, but long-term results will be disappointing because the belief isn’t able to sustain a permanent shift.

If you want to change company culture, then you can certainly start by looking at the behaviors you ultimately want to have. The behaviors that should be part of your culture are the ones that support the promise you make to customers, which is ultimately your brand. If a behavior doesn’t support the brand promise, then perhaps it isn’t worth the effort. After you’ve determined the behaviors you want, then you can pinpoint the beliefs that would be necessary to sustain those behaviors.

Shifting beliefs is not something that happens in an hour-long presentation by one of your company’s leaders. You can’t simply tell somebody what they should believe. You have to build a case for a belief. You have to enroll your audience and show them what’s in it for them. You have to support the belief in every part of your organization, consistently and continuously. If a procedure or message in your organization doesn’t align with the belief, find a way to change it or eliminate it so that distractions are minimized. Shifting beliefs is an ongoing process. You’re never finished.

A Message Architecture Provides Consistent Language

Creating a message architecture is a good place to start when changing a belief. This process will create an intuitive structure of consistent language to support the belief. You can even tailor messages to specific segments of your audience. For example, a more senior person may get on-board with a new belief quicker while junior-level employees may need messages that resonate with their more limited level of experience.

The key to a shift in belief is ongoing consistency and persistence. Before you undertake a shift in belief, make sure it supports the long-term goals of the brand promise so that you can really commit for the duration. Anything less will be perceived as the flavor-of-the-month by employees and creates an opening for skepticism and cynicism.

Kennedy Communications Global has worked with large global organizations on many facets of company culture and shifting beliefs. Our ultimate goal is to align culture behind an organization’s external customer promise. Everything you do should always point back to your brand. If you’re not sure where to begin, we’d be happy to have a conversation to get you started.

About Alice Wright

As Director of Content Strategy, Alice directs projects while also designing program strategy and instructional content. She has more than 22 years of experience managing integrated strategic marketing, communication and training programs for globally recognized brands. Some of her current and past clients include Nike, Sunglass Hut, Safeway, Banfield Pet Hospital, Office Depot, Unilever, LensCrafters, EMC, Intel, Microsoft, Dell, adidas, Joann Stores and others. Alice earned her bachelor’s degree from the School of Journalism and Communication at University of Oregon. She lives with her husband and teenage son in Portland, Oregon where she loves exploring the outdoors and being a soccer/band mom.