How to Create a Successful and Lasting Positive Culture

Are you tired of seeing great projects fall apart, even when they start strong? Ugh, we’ve all been there, right? And, that probably means you don’t want to be there again. If so, read on…

In my last post, we discussed how preparing a strong foundation and overcoming resistance to change are just the beginning of creating a positive culture shift. Today, we’re going to focus on the next step: how to create a successful and lasting positive culture.

Warning: only implement what we’re discussing in this post, if you’ve laid the groundwork for it –> go here for that.

Test Twice. Implement Once.

You can trust that I only share specific strategies and tools that are evidenced-based and fully tested. Today, we’re once again referencing the work of Kim Cameron, a recognized authority in positive leadership research. An entire chapter of his book, Practicing Positive Leadership, is devoted to what we’re covering here.  (BTW, his book is a blueprint for positive leaders and a recommended read!) 

So, based on Cameron’s findings, here are the three steps to creating a lasting and positive culture:

1. Generate an Aspirational Vision for the Organization

An aspirational vision is necessary to clearly communicate what the organization’s new culture is going to look and feel like. As a leader, your job is to clearly articulate that vision and inspire your people by painting a picture of what a flourishing organization is and how they will benefit from being part of it.

As you create your aspirational vision, keep in mind your organization is made up of people. Some people are more left-brained and want data, facts, and evidence. Some people are more right-brained and respond to ideas and stories. Everyone has a little of both, so your aspirational vision needs to appeal to both sides with data and evidence combined with imagery and emotion.

Appeal to the left-side of the brain by answering these questions:

  • What is our organization’s core competency?
  • Who are the primary stakeholders and what are their expectations?
  • How will we meet those expectations?
  • What metrics of success are we going to measure?
  • What are the challenges we need to overcome?

Appeal to the right-side of the brain by answering these questions:

  • What do we really care about—what’s our why?
  • What does it look like to realize the full potential of fulfilling our why?
  • What stories, images, and analogies will bring our flourishing future to life?
  • What symbols can bring people together?

Now that we have all the elements, we need to make the vision compelling by helping people see new perspectives. Researcher Murray Davis found that when information is too common, people tend to dismiss it because it doesn’t sound compelling. Similarly, information that is too radical will also be dismissed as too far-fetched. Therefore, a compelling vision needs to contain just the right amount of new and existing information that offers a novel way of seeing alternative possibilities and a different future.

Consider some examples:

  • Southwest Airlines aspires “to become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.”
  • The Alzheimer’s Association aspires to “a world without Alzheimer’s disease.”

These short statements help to illustrate aspirational visions that people can rally around and that can be achieved through the new culture. 

While these aspirational vision statements are short, they are not simple. Don’t worry if you not able to write one in 5 or even 60 minutes. Compelling aspirations take time to create. Begin by reviewing great visions, such as Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream,” or President Kennedy’s “Man on the Moon.” Let your ideas percolate and then run them by close confidants for feedback before finalizing.

2. Develop Organization-Wide Commitment to the Culture Shift

Securing buy-in from your top leaders is a crucial first step, but you also need to create buy-in throughout the entire organization. Two ways to develop commitment are celebrating wins and publicly declaring your goals.

Celebrate Wins

No win is too small to celebrate. Really. A copier gets fixed, installation of new monitors, a new plan to recognize birthdays or other milestones, or a new logo. Public celebrations show things are happening and create momentum.

Publicly Declare Goals

Research shows that goals are more likely to be reached when publicly declared, because this holds us accountable. When a collective vision is shared by the organization, the focus turns to fulfillment.

These techniques work because people want to be part of a winning team and an organization that does what it says it will do.

3. Maintain and Sustain Change

Creating change is easier than making it last. Without the right foundation, adequate effort to overcome resistance, a clearly articulated aspirational vision, and organizational buy-in, change often fizzles in a few months.

Case in Point

I witnessed organizational change gone awry many years ago when I worked at the cable news   channel, MSNBC. We were a distant third behind other cable news channels in the Nielsen ratings, so the leadership decided we needed a new image: America’s Independent News Channel. Instead of preparing people, addressing resistance, sharing an aspirational vision, and securing organizational buy-in, management just made an announcement one day that this was our new identity. Needless to say, it didn’t work, and the idea was abandoned in less than six months. The change was labeled a joke and blatant ratings grab—both inside and outside the organization.

To avoid a debacle like that, here’s how you can make sure your culture change lasts by creating a positive workplace where the organization, and the people in it, are truly flourishing and reaching new levels of excellence.

  • Measure accomplishments through established benchmarks and metrics that matter.
  • Share instances of people embodying the new culture through stories that set an example.
  • Create social support systems where people can gather and interact, such as ice cream socials and town hall meetings where employees feel they are part of a community.
  • Demonstrate your commitment as a leader by making your own public declaration to give up something associated with the old culture or to start a new practice aligned with the new culture.

If you follow these steps, your organization will be well on its way to realizing a successful culture shift marked by increases in productivity and performance, decreases in burnout and turnover, and your organization and people will be flourishing.

How can I be so sure about a successful and lasting positive culture shift? Everything I outlined is based on tried and tested research that’s been conducted in real-life organizations.

If you want a deeper discussion on this topic, check out my podcast episode, How to Create a Positive Culture that Produces Sustained Success.

And, look out for my next post where we’ll address a perennial issue in any workplace – how to get and keep your employees fully-engaged.

If you’ve got a positive leadership question or challenge send it to me at [email protected] and I’ll address it in another post.

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