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How do you protect your business culture through a period of change?

Posted over 1 year ago by Greg Statham - Qualified Finance Recruitment


I sat down recently with a group of CFO’s to talk about driving change in a business whilst protecting (or indeed defining) the culture. In one particular instance, my client was consolidating 5 office locations, spread out across the UK, into a new, purpose built, centralised Head Office function and due to the amount of hiring that was needed as a result, was concerned at how to retain their culture.

Perhaps you are going through a similar process at the minute and wondering how to keep those things in the business that make you, you. In my organisation for example, I get a birthday card every year on my “Work Birthday” (the day I joined the business.)  This year I turned 3.  AND I got a £5 note in my card.

It’s a simple touch that defines us as a business; we see each other as a family. 
So what can YOU be doing to improve, retain or define your culture?

1. Identify the things that you want to retain

If your business is going through significant change, then there will be some inevitable change to the culture, however, it gives you an opportunity to allow any negative aspects to be removed and for you to hyper focus on the elements you want to keep.  Step 1, work what it is that people love about your culture and laser focus on promoting those elements. 

Perhaps you want to develop a culture of celebrating success? Maybe in weekly team meetings, have peers give out recognition for something that one of there colleagues did the previous week that went above and beyond.  

Wan’t to promote collaboration? Maybe you have a quarterly award lunch where the business vote on the people that get to attend based on the work they have done with others across the organisation. 

Think Creatively, but every micro-behaviour needs to support the bigger elements and over-arching values that you want to promote. 

2. “Role Model It” at a Leadership Level

It’s all well and good telling people but what culture “should be” and what the company values are, but are you a living, breathing epitome of what the culture is? No? Why not? If the senior leadership don’t model the expected behaviours on a daily basis, then the culture in the business won’t stick, or at least, not in the way that you want it to!

Perhaps you have a value in your business to respect everyone (colleagues, clients and customers) but the moment that your are under pressure, you start to get more aggressive in your management style and undermine that core business value. 

Maybe you talk about staff development and empowering people as a business, but then micro manage their time and remove the autonomy to make decisions without seeking permission. 

You HAVE to make sure that you consciously support and demonstrate the values and behaviours of the business at the very top level. Give the staff consistency, allow them to learn the behaviours that fit those values and deliver consistent recognition for those behaviours.

3. Develop your Champions

Clearly, in any business, the culture lives and breathes with the staff that are on the ground. If you don’t have people at a granular level, championing your values, then it’s easy for a culture to lurch in a direction that you weren’t expecting, or for toxic elements of a culture to develop. 

You need to identify “culture champions”, the people who espouse the right behaviours, the ones who LOVE the job and the company, the people who would happily recommend you as a place to work.

After that, task them with continuing to drive those behaviours in others, perhaps they take up a team leader type role, maybe you get them involved in working groups to improve working conditions, perhaps they are just someone who shares great photos of all the good things that you do as a business on social media. 

But retain, nurture and support those people.  If their peers see them getting success, then they will start to mirror the behaviours over time. Remember, that if you are promoting staff in your business that DON’T echo the core business values, then people will start to mimic the behaviours that gave them that promotion as they will see it as the behaviours required to get ahead. 

4. Understand the true requirements from the workforce

Be honest, when was the last time you did a staff survey? A Happiness Index? When did you last ask your collective workforce what THEY love about the business or what they would do differently?  

It’s a powerful tool.  It let’s you to truly understand how your staff view the business and when you listen to their feedback and then work to make changes to offer visible, tangible improvements, you show them that good ideas and feedback get implemented. 

And no-one got the hair-dryer treatment for offering a constructive criticism of the business!

Hey, you may even ask some of your Champions to get involved to drive those changes.  Even better, why not include the person in the business who is a little bit negative, the person that thinks they “could have done it better.”  Empower them and give them the chance to drive the change.  If you can convert THOSE people into champions, give them the ownership, then it’s a win win.  You remove a toxic element from your culture and you replace it with someone who is suddenly bought in. 

5. Don’t be a flash in the pan. 

Just don’t.  If you are going to launch a recognition programme, promoting core values, don’t let it dwindle after the first two months and disappear.  If that happens, you were just paying lip service and you don’t truly believe in what you are trying to promote. 

If you are going to talk about core values and behaviours, talk about it from now until forever. Don’t make it this quarters' cool thing and then pick up something different next quarter because that’s more interesting.

Fully embed the things that you launch, set yourself reminders, constantly loop back around to it, because nothing kills culture quicker than a staff group who think that you don’t really believe in what you are saying. 

If you are going to commit to something and identify it as business critical, if it’s the DNA of your organisation, then make it THAT important. Don’t lose sight of it and don’t let other things get in the way.

6. Look to other businesses and how they promote culture

The beauty of my CFO Forum is that it allows business leaders to gain insight from other organisations and how they go about things.  So get out there and ask others. Ask your friends, ask your ex colleagues, go to networking groups.  Maybe you could even follow local companies or competitors on linkedin and see what they do around culture. 

Whilst your own company culture is unique to you and to your business, the way that you can promote and celebrate that can definitely take tips from others.  

The list above came from a group of 25 CFO’s and how they have successfully navigated the topic.  We even had some great learns from a CFO who openly admitted that during a period of significant growth (from 180 employees to over 400 in two years) that they got it wrong.  They failed to embed the culture they wanted and it became such a bigger beast to wrestle after it had grown. 

So get ahead of yourself, set out a plan, stick to the plan and execute it consistently. 

One last thing before I go…………………

If you would like any more insight or to get involved in any of our great leadership forums (MD, CFO or Future Leaders) then please get in touch below:

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