To find out what an organization's employees believe, you can't ask them all at once. Examining how people work together can help you get a better sense of the culture of your company, and it can also help you figure out how to improve it. "The way we do things around here" is hard to break.
In part, it's hard to change an organization's culture because it shows people's values, which are what they think is good, desirable, and right. Some relationships may make the problem even worse. If your coworkers are part of informal groups with people who share and support your values, they are more likely to stay stuck in their ways of thinking and not be open to new ideas.
But this does not always have to be the case in all cases. In addition, HR teams may be able to use those same networks to help them find and overcome cultural change roadblocks and find new allies, because many executives aren't aware of this, partly because traditional HR functions of company culture are focused on finding similarities rather than differences.
To figure out where the company stands on certain issues, employees fill out questionnaires about their beliefs, attitudes, standards, and behaviors, which are then averaged together. This is a common method for managing human resources.
Also, you could try using in-depth interviews and personas to show how "average" employees' values make them act the way they do. The reason for this is that, even though these talent management approaches can show how people think about the same things, they don't show how people think about things that are different from what they think.
So, instead of getting an average score, like 4; instead, executives need to know where the pockets of 3, 5, and 1 and 2s are, and even clusters of 1 and 2. This way, they can better manage a certain value. To get people to accept new cultural goals, they need to know who is meeting up with whom in and between the groups of pockets and clusters.
Combining survey data with organizational network analysis is a great way to learn about this. The mapping of cooperation patterns in an organization gives you a peek inside the company.
In a network, you can see where people are separated by silos, who are left alone on the outside, who are opinion leaders, and who can connect people and combine different ideas. All of this will help HR professionals be better able to change the way people work.
At least 40 leaders have used this strategy in their human resource management over the last five years. Peter Gray, Rob Cross, and Michael Arena are three scholars who have looked into this. In the past, they looked at what worked and came up with five ways to get people to change their ways through unstructured networks.
1. Identify and investigate subcultures
In general, organizational culture refers to how the whole organization thinks, feels, and acts. However, subcategories like functions, divisions, and geographies all have their own cultures. Leaders often think about the culture of their parts of the company and do what needs to be done. For example, the CEO thinks about the whole company, top executives think about their divisions, and so on.
However, formal organizational structures only have a limited impact on culture. It is also shaped and kept alive by subnetworks of people who, for example, represent a slice of a formal unit or are spread out across several separate units. This means that leaders who can figure out the range of values that exist in different cultural subnetworks will be much better able to help or change these subcultures in the future.
Consider the following. Top executives from a global consumer packaged goods company that recently bought another company were asked to pick the most important goal for the new group. It was in Consumer Reports that the findings were reported. Instead of coming to a consensus, the committee came up with a list of 18 other top priorities, some of which were very different from each other.
Following that, organizational network analysis and a culture survey were done, in which employees were asked which problem was the most important to them. Creating a lot of growth in existing brands was the most popular option, but there wasn't a consensus on what to do about it. Rather than focusing on it as a unifying theme, leaders used network big data to learn more about how people's informal relationships shaped their feelings (as would be expected after a normal culture study).
This showed that there were two different chances for change. The first study looked at well-connected cultural outliers: powerful people who had strong beliefs that were different from the majority of people around them. Those who love branded things were told by the leaders to connect with people who don't fit in with the rest of society so that they could understand their concerns.
Then they could share their enthusiasm for and success with branded products with the group. When outliers saw how excited other people were about a brand, it often made them rethink their views and become more productive partners, and it sometimes made brand devotees more aware of their blind spots.
Another time, a product manager who was a big fan of a well-known food brand found the small amount of money she was given each year for big promotional activities to be annoying. Many of these projects kept getting turned down for money, even though they had a great return on investment.
A well-connected senior manager in the division's finance department had a big impact on the funding decisions of many of his subordinates, including her own. She didn't know this until she looked at the network and cultural analysis data.
Afterward, the product manager invited the finance manager to a company-sponsored competition where customers could enter recipes that used the company's product in new and creative ways. A group of tasters would review the dinners, and many people from both managers' networks would be there.
While attending the entertaining and sometimes noisy meeting, the finance manager saw firsthand how much people like the product and how much his employees felt it was fantastic. He had previously thought the product was old, but the product manager's nonthreatening attitude made him think again. After a short time, his attitude began to shift. His decisions were more in line with the cultural goal of encouraging growth in established businesses.
Leaders tried to make subnetwork differences seem like signs of different goals rather than signs of right or wrong when they had a second chance to change the culture. They did not care about what was right or wrong.
Instead of trying to get any subnetwork to change its mind, executives worked with them all to figure out how each could help the organization achieve its long-term goals. Network data helped leaders figure out which people in each subnetwork were the most connected. They wanted to bring them together to come up with ideas that would be widely accepted by their peers and coworkers.
Some subnetworks were told to go even further in the direction they were already going. In one example, this meant getting together a group of employees who were excited about making brands that were very different from those of their product category counterparts.
Product development, market research, and materials science professionals were asked to use their knowledge and skills in these fields to look into new ideas that weren't related to existing goods. As part of the larger strategy, their efforts were seen as an addition rather than a break from it. This allowed the new team to branch out in new directions while still relying on the help of those who were more focused on existing branded goods to help them succeed.
2. Identify your genuine cultural leaders.
People in charge of a company have been told for a long time that they play a big role in how the company's culture grows and changes. To make sure their messages are persuasive, they spend a lot of time and effort crafting persuasive statements about important new concepts or behavioral needs. They then communicate these messages to employees either directly or through the leadership structure.
We know that formal leaders play a role in cultural change, but our study shows that they aren't the only ones who do it. Informal influencers inside a company are important, but they're often not given the credit they deserve. Instead of taking a top-down approach, asking them for help is much more efficient and faster.
Leaders often use offsite meetings to get their message across to their employees. They bring them together to talk about values or goals, for example. They may also work for forward-thinking companies.
Employees who think their ideas are important may also work for these companies. According to our research, even though these additions make it look like a business is more inclusive, many businesses don't pay attention to at least half of their true cultural influencers because they think they're important.
This is a big mistake. In informal conversations, most employees learn about the company's culture. They listen in on what coworkers are important, what topics they should care about, and "how we do things here."
Network influencers also have a big impact on these kinds of conversations. It's common for senior and executive-level people, like CEOs, to connect well with people at the top of the organization, but not so much with people at the bottom. Some people have a lot of power in informal ways, but they can't get very far into high-level jobs.
A division of a well-known factory we looked at had 1,100 employees, and 60% of them had a connection to the top 50 informal influencers. Only 31% of the top 50 senior executives had that same connection. If you want more information, see "Formal vs. Informal Influence." To make important changes, why would you spend time and money on a group that only had half the reach of the other group?
There are times when informal influencers work together to start broad-based movements that can succeed when top-down methods aren't likely to work. In actual life, things may operate that way.
When a global bank tried to come up with new customer-focused technologies, it ran into problems because different divisions tried to promote their work while downgrading the work of other divisions. Leaders used network data to find 80 informal influencers in four areas: technical infrastructure, software development, marketing, and customer service.
After that, these people who have a big impact on people were asked to help start a cultural revolution. They were hired not only because they were well-liked and respected at home, but also because they had connections to powerful people in other jobs. The company also found a group of dissatisfied customers who represented new markets that the bank couldn't yet reach.
These customers included a gig-economy millennial who didn't carry cash and worked from home, a small business owner, and so on. In a program organized by the leaders, design thinking was used to bring together people who have an impact on people and people who buy things.
Eight-person groups were formed over many sessions (comprising two people from each functional area). Each team had to deal with a customer who didn't like what they were doing. The customer's presence quickly changed the team's perspectives.
Instead of pointing fingers at each other to avoid responsibility, the team members were forced to learn more about the customer's most important wants and needs instead. They asked themselves, "What if?" and quickly came up with new goods and services that the bank could offer. A lot of people found that these workshops were useful, but the most important thing they did was help them see how important their coworkers were during the process.
He asked them a question that he had been waiting to ask. How can the bank's culture change to encourage this kind of customer-focused innovation? Attendees realized how much stronger they were as a group after they spent the whole day working with people from different jobs and places. Because the wording used in the workshops was different, many of the responses said that they wanted the same things: respect for other people's points of view, shared responsibility for competing well, and shared ownership of the customer experience.
Because they took part in these workshops, the informal influencers felt like they had a stake in the values they created together. They then shared these values with their coworkers over the next few weeks and months. Some other people were inspired to look at cross-functional collaboration in a new way after they talked about how excited they were about the new opportunities that had come their way.
"In the past, we've tried design thinking projects based on customer needs, but they've always failed," the person in charge of the change project said. "But this time, it worked." "The key to this project's success was figuring out who the most important people were and getting them all together."
3. Bring Attention to Unconscious TensionsLeaders of change projects have been told for a long time to form a strong steering coalition that can deal with employees' resistance to change. That, however, is easier to say than to do. The phrase "death by a thousand cuts" refers to a company's change efforts being smothered by little, hidden disagreements all over the place.
To do one of HR's jobs, it might be useful to analyze network and cultural data with the right workforce analytics tools. This could help executives better deal with these issues in the future.
When the data scientists looked into a technical company, they found that it had trouble promoting cultural change and had a hard time figuring out what was causing people to be resistant. Despite the CEO's good intentions, people were less likely to speak up because they were afraid of being publicly corrected for their opinions. Nothing changed because of this.
When a new CEO took over, he put a new focus on culture. This time, the goal was to make dissent and debate more productive, not harmful. There were two types of problems when network and cultural data were combined. Toxic misalignments, in which cultural influencers with very different values worked together in a bad way, and unresolved standoffs, in which cultural influencers had a good relationship but disagreed on important cultural values.
Some people thought it was unethical to sell customer data to other people, but others said that it made it easier for other businesses to advertise more effectively. One of the problems is that there is a big disagreement about how to make money off of user data. The first thought the second was morally wrong, while the second took offense to the first's statements.
After they tried, their fight spilled over into meetings and other interactions that had nothing to do with data monetization, which slowed down progress on many other fronts.
In this case, when she read the responses out loud, it became clear that they had a lot more in common than anyone could have thought. Rather than having to choose between doing what was best for customers and doing what was best for the company, there was a lot of tension.
Nobody was trying to take advantage of customers, but different people had different ideas about what was OK and what wasn't OK. Afterward, they looked into ways to give more benefits to customers through data exchange and how to do so while keeping their privacy in mind. Because they agreed on the main idea of customer respect, their disagreement turned into something good.
A high-skilled person who helps people, like a marriage counselor, knows that appealing to a higher shared value can help break a deadlock, but only after they figure out where there is a value mismatch and who is on which side of the split.
Network analytics can be used to find out where the people who have an impact on a dispute are. They are always spread out across the network and are never concentrated in a single place, job, or region. HR analytics, such as Slack analytics platform, like Pavooq can also be used to figure out what kind of interactions the influencers have with people based on how they interact with them. Leaders can then look for and fix the links in the organization that aren't working well.
Those who have nothing to dislike but disagree on a cultural value that hurts their ability to be productive are examples of standoffs. In the same technological company, after a restructuring, three different activities were combined into one unit: organizational development, process improvement, and software development. This was because of the restructuring. After six months of working together, the new unit had made little progress on the projects it agreed to work on together.
There was a three-way debate about what was the most important thing that they could work on together. People, processes, or technology should be put first. It was because they couldn't make progress that the functional groups formed their groups, came up with their methods, and threw bits of incomplete solutions over the transom at their counterparts.
On a personal level, the people in these groups were friendly to each other, but they couldn't figure out why the other people didn't see things the same way they did.
After picking a group of people who were important to them, the unit leader set up a workshop where they could talk about their experiences. In this paper, he talked about how each part of a hypothetical project should be a leader at different points. He then split the group into teams with different skills so that they could look at real-life examples of contacts that were very different from the model he had given them.
4. Inspire Feelings of Well-Being
People who use traditional methods for cultural change usually think that the process is logical: The goal of defining new values and teaching workers about them is to get people to agree to new ways of working by telling personal stories, giving real-life examples, and making strong arguments. However, according to our findings, culture spreads best when people connect in a way that makes them feel connected.
People who can make their coworkers feel good do very well when they try to get them to accept good cultural ideas. In the study, individual employees in the R&D department of a petrochemical company were much more likely to accept cultural goals if their supervisors passed them on to them through a positive, motivating network connection.
After learning this, the business started training its first-level managers to become better "energizers." It taught them, among other things, how to talk to others about real possibilities that piqued their interest and heart, and how to help them see how their efforts were part of a bigger goal. Nine months after the first key HR metrics were gathered, the people who worked on the project were much more open to the new cultural values.
Negative emotion elicitors, like dread or anger, are better at spreading bad cultural norms and stifling the spread of good ones. Leaders in one business unit of a big technology company gathered network data on the people with whom respondents were afraid to share early-stage ideas or conflicting points of view.
The findings were then shared with the rest of the company. As soon as the senior executive saw the data, he was unhappy and said, "We have a fear-based culture." Even though he was very talented, many others were reluctant to speak out for fear of being ridiculed by their colleagues or boss if they did so. As a result, the company's ability to come up with new ideas, risk-taking, and presence in the market have all been hurt.
According to the data, less than 5% of senior executives and 8% of well-known specialists were responsible for the majority of employees' fears. Peter Gray, Rob Cross, and Michael Arena didn't name any of the people who took part in the research. They shared the results with the organization's leaders and people who knew about the subject in general.
After a series of talks about how work was assigned, input was sought, advice was given, and problems were solved, a deal was reached. It was quickly followed by a series of training workshops for all professionals and leaders, not just the people who make people afraid (whose identities were kept anonymous).
Leading experts worked on their active listening and conflict resolution skills, while other experts learned how to get their followers to help rather than force them to do what they want. People who kept in touch with their accountability partners and took part in peer-group follow-up sessions were more likely to do what they said they would.
The study also revealed the names of the 80 employees who were the most afraid. They were only 2% of the total, but they said that dread was in almost all of their interactions. The first step was to figure out who these employees were. Terrified people, even if they don't know it, help keep a fear culture alive by telling stories.
Leaders came up with new rules to make everyone more responsible, like limiting the spread of rumors and gossip. They also gave direct counseling to the employees who were afraid, which helped them see how out of proportion their reactions were. Because their opinions often have an impact on the people around them, this calmed down the network as a whole.
5. Allow Adoption the necessary time to progress.
Learning new cultural norms and behaviors may take a varying length of time for each individual depending on their background. Some individuals believe that new cultural concepts do not spread rapidly because they are difficult to understand or complex to implement.
This isn't always the case, however. When it comes to how rapidly individuals adopt new technologies, networks have a significant impact. However, quicker is not necessarily better.
Consider the case of a forward-thinking life sciences company that was losing key millennial employees because work rules were preventing them from having fun on the weekends.
When competing with other businesses for the best employees, top-level executives realized that their old ideas about how employees should perform and how they should move up in the company were turning off the same people they had worked so hard to get. The time to hire has gone up, but the absence rate has gone down.
As a result, they called for a new "work to live" value that stressed job flexibility, employee well-being, and work-life balance. They did a dozen things to promote this new value, but it took eight months for people to start using it. Many supervisors and middle-level managers didn't know that a larger cultural shift was taking place. As a result, they dealt with supportive behaviors in ways that didn't help the people they were supposed to help.
Even though sending emails on the weekends was not allowed, many managers just planned their emails to send at a later time, which led to a flood of new requests on Monday morning. A lot of other behaviors were misunderstood or only partially implemented, which led to more problems with talent retention.
After realizing that this cultural change would take a lot more time and effort than they thought, top executives began intentionally modeling the behaviors they wanted to see in their networks' interactions with other people. Following the positive changes in their personal work lives that many mid-level managers saw, the underlying value became more deeply ingrained in their beliefs, and their adoption of cultural practices became easier.
Another business services company used survey-based network data and respondents' assessments of whether their peers were adopting important new cultural behaviors to find places where the company could speed up the adoption of these changes. Using very careful judgment on every proposal and taking huge but beneficial risks were some of the more subtle habits that took longer to learn than others, the study found.
If they had a good network, some employees didn't need as much "soak time" because they had the chance to see senior leaders doing these things and learn what they were really about. Fly-on-the-wall situations: As a result, the company made more employees go to meetings where they would see executives, at all levels, doing the same things they did in secret.
An investigation of the network of the company found links that would make it legal for a junior employee to attend an event where senior executives were present and show that the person was trustworthy and discreet. Workers were able to quickly adopt the desired behaviors thanks to the experiences they had. They wouldn't have been able to do this on their own for months, years, or even decades.
New employees at the same company didn't like to follow other complicated rules because they were incorporated too quickly. These employees tried to copy what they thought they saw being done, but they fell short because they didn't fully understand the basic cultural norms of the company.
One thing that was in line with this idea was the thorough examination of new ideas for flaws passionately and intelligently. The problem is that these new hires thought that the company's culture was against new ideas, and they attacked anything that they thought went against the company's business strategy.
A lot of thought was put into how the expected behaviors should be. If you don't agree with the data, don't argue with it until you have more evidence, and don't throw out an assumption until you can show how your insights are different. It would take some time to figure out what these kinds of actions meant and how they looked.
Firm leaders, on the other hand, didn't just tell new employees not to do them for a year or two. Instead, they used network data to connect the employees with peers who had a mature understanding of the value. People who had been mentored by these people told newcomers when and when not to speak. This allowed them to become aware of the complexities over time and only speak when they had a complete understanding of the behavior in question.
People who took part in this mentoring program were more likely to stay. People who start fights without fully understanding the group's cultural norms have been fired from the organization in the past. They were able to make more effective connections with other people during their first few years at work after they learned how important it was to start slowly.
People who have that perspective can then go after changes in a more focused way than before. This allows them to better spread new values where they are needed, while also making sure that long-term results come out of it. How new ideas and beliefs spread, who are the real influencers at work, and how long it might take to get them.