3 Critical Culture Change Questions for Business Owners

With many things in life it’s all too easy to talk about making changes – whether in our business or personal lives – because ultimately talk is cheap.

However grasping the mettle and translating talk into tangible action is something else.

The same principle applies when it comes to transforming your business culture – whether you are seeking to toughen it up to boost your profitability – or to ensure successful succession planning.

It needs more care and attention from SME business owners and leaders because “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” according to management guru Peter Drucker and popularized in 2006 by Mark Fields, president of Ford Motor Company.

Getting your culture change wrong can be costly in many aspects – here are the 3 big questions to ask when considering adjusting or changing it.

1. Why Change the Culture?

Is this absolutely necessary? Where is your hard evidence firm fact and figures that the current culture of your business is having a negative impact on performance such as loss of sales, declining customer retention, increased customer complaints, staff recruitment problems, increased staff complaints, more industrial tribunal cases, supplier complaints and so on?

Have you considered that your culture may be outdated due to changes in the marketplace? For example, in recent years Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become a key factor in attracting and retaining top talent. Many business owners who have focused solely on the survival and the health of their bottom line at the expense of their people have seen their young, up and coming stars take off to join companies with a CSR ethos. These youngsters voted with their feet because their employer did not take social issues and their community relations seriously.

2. What Does the New Culture Look and Feel Like?

How does your new culture differ from your current one – and how do you and your senior team act and behave in this changed business environment? What new factors do you all need to consider when arriving at a decision? How much are you prepared to spend or forego to deliver the new culture?

Conduct in depth discussions with each of your key people and “peel back the onion” to unearth exactly how willing and committed they are to making and delivering the necessary attitude and behaviour changes. Ensure they buy into with their head and hearts and in their own words and with total conviction. Remember this can’t be rushed.

For the last nine months a What If? Forum member has undergone this exercise in preparing to change from a family enterprise to a professionally managed business. While many of his peers in the same position have readily accepted the need for change and what it means to them, others have found it a step too far and taken the difficult decision to exit the business.

Those undergoing the change have felt the pain and difficulties that accompany it. However, with each step, the member’s vision and description of the new culture has become clearer and more persuasive. A major step change came at a meeting with an ‘ideal’ top management team recruit who was immediately impressed that the progressive culture of the business was far more advanced than he had been lead to believe.

3. What are the Deliverables?

What is the tangible, measurable result that the change in culture will deliver?

For the What If? Forum member it is significantly greater turnover and profit per employee with him spending no more than 30 hours per week at the business, faster order fulfilment and more repeat orders. Added to this is deeper engagement with customers and top managers, spending less time ‘In’ the business and operating more strategically as department managers and supervisors take more responsibility and accountability, decisions are made more systematically and constructively – and are backed up by numbers and facts rather than assumption and gut feel.

Check out our series of blogs on the processes critical to implementing such a change which include you challenging yourself if you are tough enough to undergo a seismic change. Remember once you have embarked on this route, there is no turning back.

What have been your ‘Big Learns’ from changing the culture in your business and what further advice would you have for someone considering making a change to the culture of their business? Leave a comment below, e-mail me via richard.bosworth@whatifspecialist.com, go to @RichardWhatIf on Twitter, Richard Bosworth on LinkedIn or post on www.whatifforums.com.

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