Teryluz Andreu, Axialent Partner & Culture Expert, and Ginger Hardage, Founder of Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship & Former SVP of Culture and Communication of Southwest Airlines, engaged in an interactive forum discussing how leaders can create and sustain cultures of enduring greatness within their organization.
Ginger retired from Southwest Airlines after an illustrious 25 years and created The Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship. UCF lives on as The Fellowship (which Axialent has the privilege of partnering with this year), a four-day masterclass helping you build a captivating culture that your customers can’t resist and your employees refuse to leave.
Ginger and Teryluz began their discussion by listing the three most common pitfalls organizations run into during their pursuit of cultural transformation and advice on how you can address them.
- Leadership is not on the same page. It is critical for leadership to be on the same page when trying to evolve their organizational culture. Alignment amongst the leadership team on what kind of culture they desire, how they will drive it, and what commitments they are willing to make is vital. If misalignment occurs within leadership, it will not only be noticed internally but externally as well.
- Lack of processes and discipline. Cultural transformation is not a one-and-done project. It requires time, processes to support the change, ongoing communication, and discipline in follow-through. Too often, organizations underestimate the rigorous processes and disciplines needed after launching cultural initiatives and don’t make the necessary investments to drive sustainable change.
- Lack of employee involvement. It is important to understand employees’ thoughts and perspectives before making organizational changes. Often, organizations do not listen to their employees’ pain points and roadblocks, which slows efforts down the road. When employees are involved from the start, it creates a sense of ownership and shared responsibility to overcome barriers and see transformational change.
Ginger and Teryluz shared some insights on actions that we can take to address (or even better, avoid) these challenges. It all starts with two key steps: Define and Demonstrate.
- Define. Have open conversations with your team about these key questions: Where do we want to go? Who do we want to be? What do we need to protect? What do we need to evolve? Teryluz mentioned that this step is a great opportunity to find creative ways to make everyone in the organization a part of the cultural conversation.
For this to work, senior leaders need to have a vision of where they need to go, but also have the courage to seek understanding. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, these leaders need humility to let go of any preconceived notions on what needs to change. Understanding the current culture from employees’ point of view will help inform what key shifts need to be made culturally.
- Demonstrate. Help leaders walk the talk. When it comes to demonstration and changing culture, Ginger outlined a few key things leaders should address:
- “Culture is everyone’s job.” The most effective efforts involve all departments, not just the typical communications and HR-driven initiatives. If all leaders aren’t living the values and modeling the desired behaviors the desired outcome will not be achieved.
- For culture to change, leaders may need to change. Leaders must reflect on how they need to change, not just the organization. It’s critical to provide safe spaces for leaders to gain self-awareness on how they need to improve their own mindsets and behaviors to align with the new ways of working.
- Never underestimate the power of storytelling and leadership visibility. In the era of social media, people are used to the continuous flow of communication and increased accessibility. Engaging in conversations about the what, why, and how of the organization’s cultural initiatives has to be a constant process across multiple channels. To be authentic, leaders need to find what approach works for them, understand what is most engaging for their internal audiences, and establish a cadence to keep the dialogue going.
Even the best laid-out strategies can get stuck or go off the rails. Ginger and Teryluz offered some ideas on what to do if you feel stuck in your culture journey.
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- State the need for change. Tie the need for change to your business strategy and priorities. Ginger encouraged organizations to look at their “return on culture” like other ROI challenges. How can culture drive your business at the enterprise level? It’s essential to clearly articulate how the lack of change will impact employees.
- Give a cross-section of leaders the responsibility to lead culture. Too often, change is only driven through the HR lens, which can be limiting. It takes a cross-section of people to solve problems and help initiatives get unstuck.
- Don’t be too prescriptive. Let people serve the organization in the way that works best for them. Model employee empowerment and involve people in creating solutions for problems they care about.
Like any strategic change initiative, cultural transformation requires a clear vision, discipline in execution, agility to adapt to circumstances, dedication to overcome obstacles, and a great deal of resilience.
Let’s allow this journey to be an opportunity to evolve as people as we transform our organizations.