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Chris LoCurto

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July 13, 2011

Can You Fix Culture?

At a recent EntreLeadership here in Nashville, this question came up: “If I don’t have the culture I want with behavior, attitude and work ethic, how do I go back and fix that?”

The answer is…you can’t. That’s right. You can’t fix it. You can only go forward and create the culture you want. You see, to fix culture would mean spending time on each and every situation trying to turn it around. That, my friends, would be a massive waste of time. Instead, let’s change the culture. So to get the behavior, attitude and work ethic you want, you have to instill the right kind of culture that fosters exactly that. You need sweeping changes.

Now, I usually spend hours with businesses walking them through the process that fits them. But since this is a blog post, I’ll give highlights that should help you get the ball rolling. Trust me when I say that you need to do a lot of writing:

  • Start with you. – You have to realize that you are the reason the culture is the way that it is — unless you inherited the business. Therefore, you have to start figuring out what it is about you that allowed it to get this way. Was it fear? Was it busyness? Or was it just plain ignorance? Ignorance isn’t bad if you fix it. Most of the time I find that owners and leaders were never taught how to do culture right in the first place. Either way, make a list of things you believe caused the culture to be the way it is.
  • What’s the problem? – What exactly is wrong with the culture? If it’s behavior and attitude, is there a ton of gossip? In the post Champions! I talk about how gossip is a cancer that will tear your organization apart and will keep champions from working there. Why do people gossip? Sometimes it’s because they don’t believe their leader will actually listen and help fix the problems. Doesn’t make it right, but it does help to find the root cause. Next list, what’s wrong with your business that resulted in this bad culture?
  • And the winner is… – Number the list of issues in order of importance. Now tackle the top three. Everything else can wait because you can’t do all things at once. Unless you only have three issues. But the heaviest hitting problems must be addressed now. Create lists of everything that needs to happen to turn those situations around. Starting with El Numero Uno. Pray over it like crazy. Get advice from people you trust, who know more about this than you do. Then tackle it with the proper amount of pressure or finesse.
  • Get buy-in. – You can either tell people about the changes you’re making and hope they change with you, or you can get buy-in from them. Explain to the team how bad the culture is and ask them for ways to fix it. Now, you already have some of those answers on your lists. But you’re doing this to get the much-needed buy-in from your team. Allow them to come up with ideas and give them credit. That will build respect in your team for you and your leadership, and it will become a self-policing situation with the culture. They will begin to see how things can get better, and they will fight to keep it that way.

As you implement, remember that culture isn’t created overnight. You’re bad culture wasn’t. Be patient, but not lazy. Walk forward every day as if the culture has changed. This will be a sign to your team that you are serious about providing an environment where they can flourish.

Question: What bad culture experiences have you had?

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  • http://lgthaxton.wordpress.com Louise Thaxton

    Great post! And I think that too many times I have tried to do exactly what you said I cannot do – FIX THE CULTURE! I agree with one of your commenters who said you need to EXPOUND on this. The blog is a great place for me to start – thanks again for your great leadership insights.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      I would love to put more out there on it. What would you like to see?

  • http://jenpeterson.wordpress.com jenpeterson

    Thanks for the article Chris. You definitely have to start with yourself in any change; otherwise, how can you expect others to follow? I am at the beginning of trying to change the culture (grassroots effort) of the place I work. I figure I have to begin it myself so that others ask about it. It’s not easy, but I think it’s worth it.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Jen, I’m really proud of you for being the one to start!! You are correct, you have to start with you. One additional thing I should have added is that culture must be communicated, and done so repeatedly. While you’re living it out, you’ll need to announce what the new culture is. If it’s no gossip, everyone needs to know what that looks like and what the ramifications are for gossiping.

      Are you in a position to do that? If not, then you’ll need to win over leadership to make some of the changes necessary.

      Again, way to go you!!!

      • http://jenpeterson.wordpress.com jenpeterson

        I’m not currently in a leadership position, but I think there is an awareness in the organization that change is coming, on several sides. With an organization that is over 100 years old and naturally VERY conservative, change is slower to come than some other organizations. But people are willing to try something new to make our company better. We have a great group of people.

        • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

          It sounds like it. And it sounds like you’re the person to get it going! I love your positive approach!!

  • http://medicalaccountsolutions.wordpress.com medicalaccountsolutions

    Excellent post, but oh such a brief overview and caption of this topic! I seriously think you should expand it!!!

    I find that as life happens, your business grows, you add more people to your team, your client base changes…you have to readdress your culture. It always starts from the top down and you have to be what you want out of your own people or how can they change? For me, facing the facts of what I don’t like regarding attitude, behavior and work ethic (…and more) and then accepting that I can’t “fix it” gives a peace at being able to work on me in small ways. In a world that expects change and to reap benefits overnight, we sometimes have expectations that are built on the wrong level. Start with who you can control and only who you can control. You can influence, you can coach, you can encourage; but you truly cannot control the other person. Being a leader means that I must face the fact that I am not perfect and to make the changes at fixing me.

    Thanks for the reminder. I still am working on my culture.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      So true! Culture isn’t instantaneous. It’s something that you will work on making better as long as you’re in the business. Great comments Misty!

      What direction would you like me to expand on?

  • http://ericspeir.com/ Eric Speir

    This was tough to read! I’m learning as a leader that most of the problems that I deal with in my culture is a reflection of my leadership style. I hate starting with myself because it’s certainly easier to point fingers and assign blame. It’s hard to take responsibility but when we start to do this as leaders we can lead more effectively.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Wow! Great vulnerability and input Eric!!

  • Vance

    Great post Chris. I’ve learned that changing or creating culture takes more than setting a good example (though this is certainly required). As you say, you must get buy-in and you certainly need to make sure you have the right team members on the right seats on the right bus.
    Love that your post starts with Me and moves to We. The culture is all about the team and each team member makes a difference.

    Best,

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      You are absolutely right! Thanks for the great input!

  • http://jjedlin.wordpress.com jjedlin

    I love the buy-in part! Not easy to do, but I think it’s really important and says a lot to your team when you let them know there’s a problem and you are going to fix it.

    Also, thanks for linking to the Champions blog on gossip. I didn’t know you had written a blog on gossip and really enjoyed reading it!

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Thanks Jon. I really believe those go hand in hand.