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Making Culture Change Sticky

In my last article (“Does Your Contact Center Culture Need a Makeover?”), I described how leaders must assess the quality of their team’s work culture. Leaders don’t typically pay attention to their team (or department or company) culture because they’ve never been asked to do that.

However, culture drives everything that happens in your organization, good or bad. A purposeful, positive, productive culture boosts employee engagement (by 40 percent), customer service (by 40 percent), and results and profits (by 35 percent). I can prove it.

An unhealthy culture costs you money, opportunity, talent, engagement, service, results - and more.

Company Culture

Leaders must make values - how people treat colleagues and customers - as important as results. A proven way to do that? By following three steps: define, align, and refine.

First, leaders must define their desired culture by formalizing your team or department’s organizational constitution. An organizational constitution specifies your team’s present day “servant purpose” (who you serve and to what end - beyond making money!), values and behaviors, strategies, and goals. Most organizations have strategies and goals already defined, so that’s done.

Defining your team’s servant purpose will take some time. Constructing a clear statement of who your team serves, how your team serves (with what knowledge and skills), and how that service improves the customer’s quality of life can’t be approached casually. It requires discussions, brainstorming, input from players at all levels, and - finally - wordsmithing a servant purpose that feels right.

Why craft a servant purpose for your team or department or company? Humans crave context and meaning - they want to know how their work serves others. “Making money” is certainly important for any enterprise, but “making money” isn’t inspiring to most of your team. Solving a specific problem for busy, working families and community members just might be inspiring!

Questions to ponder: What is your contact center team’s “reason for being”? Who does your team serve, how do they serve them, and to what end - beyond making money - are team members toiling?

The define step continues by formalizing desired values using observable, tangible, measurable terms. Just as performance expectations are measurable, values must be measurable. That way, everyone knows the behaviors that are expected of them - and everyone can act as a great corporate citizen, all the time.

For example, if you want everyone on your team to demonstrate an integrity value, you must specify how you want people to behave so integrity is ensured. You might decide that a behavior like “I do what I say I will do” is a terrific, simple, and observable way that players can model integrity. Another behavior that boosts integrity might be “I follow up to ensure I’ve served my colleagues and customers well."

Your company may already have values in place. It’s unlikely that existing values include behavioral examples or expectations, so there will be some work required on your part. Don’t overwhelm team members with too many values and too many behaviors. Keep it simple! Have 3-5 values with 2-3 behaviors each.

Simply defining and announcing your desired culture doesn’t make it a reality! Many leaders do just that, though - they announce the new procedure, or process, or system, and walk away. They’re convinced that, “I’ve told them, so now they’ll do it!"

Not true. Knowing something is not the same as doing that something.

What matters isn’t the announcement of the change. What matters is what happens after the change is announced. The second step, align, is where you make your desired changes stick.

This step requires the most time, energy, coaching, discussion, modeling, and more coaching. The define step typically takes 4-6 weeks. The align step takes 18 months or more.

Why? Alignment starts with leaders. No one else is asked to change their behavior - to embrace the values and behaviors - for six months following their publication.

The only way to build credibility for the desired changes is for leaders to LIVE the new servant purpose, values, and behaviors. Leaders must hold themselves accountable for demonstrating the team or company's specific valued behaviors before they can expect anyone else to embrace them!

Leaders must model the changes, coach the changes, praise progress as others embrace the changes, redirect players who are not embracing the changes, etc.

The align step also includes measurement of valued behaviors. Just as performance metrics are closely monitored, a new system for monitoring valued behaviors must be created. Measuring how well leaders are living the valued behaviors shows how important these values - and your desired culture - really are to the success of the business.

How can you measure values alignment? The most effective and simple method is to conduct a values survey every six months.

In the first run of the values survey - six months after your organizational constitution is published - all employees are asked to rate their leaders on the degree to which those leaders demonstrate defined valued behaviors.

Each behavior is rated on a 1-6 scale. A score of 6 means the rater “strongly agrees” that leader models this behavior in every interaction. A 5 means the rater “agrees.” A 4 means “slightly agree.” 3 means “slightly disagree.” 2 means “disagree” while a 1 means “strongly disagree.”

The only desired scores are 5’s and 6’s, which indicates that raters (team members) see this leader modeling that particular valued behavior consistently.

If you have 15 valued behaviors, each would be a separate question on the survey.

After tallying the data, each leader receives a report noting their scores on each valued behavior. Where leaders are aligned, praise them. Where leaders miss the mark (falling short of 5-6 ratings), coach them to model those behaviors more consistently.

Many leaders will score well. Some leaders will score poorly. Combined with these leaders’ performance data (which you already measure and monitor), you’ll have a more complete picture of their impact on the business!

Don’t tolerate bad behaviors, self-serving actions, rudeness, ad nauseum, from leaders. Praise aligned behaviors. Re-direct mis-aligned behaviors. Period.

The second run of your values survey (and all succeeding runs) six months after the first run allows employees to not only rate their leaders but to rate their peers and themselves. That’s rich data!

The refine step? That happens about every 24 months when you reflect on the relevance of your valued behaviors, strategies, and goals - and tweak them as needed. Your servant purpose won’t change. Your values won’t change. Behaviors might need to change or be updated.

Following any refinements, focus on align, align, align.

That’s how you make desired changes stick.

Questions to ponder: What behaviors do your best performers demonstrate? How do they model teamwork, cooperation, kindness, AND performance? Note those behaviors down - they’re the foundation of your desired valued behaviors AND your refined team culture!