Can You Change Your Workplace Culture 10% at a Time?

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Aug 11, 2011

Last week on the Fistful of Talent blog, Paul Hebert of Incentive Intelligence wrote about recent research on company culture:

Recently, Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. Read that again – 10% = ALWAYS adopted by the majority of the society.”

A bit tongue-in-cheek, I think, Paul advised HR readers to stop spending so much time and energy trying to change company culture with the vast majority of employees. Rather, HR pros tasked with “culture change” should focus on that 10 percent of committed, bought-in employees.

Changing a little bit every day

I, on the other hand, believe it’s not only possible but critically necessary to change the culture with 80-90 percent of employees – but not in a “we’re changing the culture TODAY” type of approach. Rather, if you can focus every employee (or at least the vast majority who have expressed some degree of caring about their work, the customers, their colleagues, or the company at least a tiny a bit) on specific behaviors and demonstrating those behaviors in their daily work – then you can change the entire culture.

It’s similar to how you move an aircraft carrier at sea – you don’t try to turn the entire ship in the space of few hundred feet. You change direction by a fraction and within a league, a demonstrable change of course is noticeable.

That’s why we focus so sharply on helping organization leaders change their culture by ingraining their company values in the daily work of all employees – and frequently, specifically recognizing employees every time they demonstrate those values.

Getting employees who buy in to help influence others

Later in the same post, Paul advises:

Find a smaller contingent of employees who hold the beliefs and values that best represent your company. Invest in them and their ability to have conversations about their point of view with others in the organization. Let them have blogs and other communication tools that let them reach out to the rest of the organization.”

This is quite similar to best-practice recommendations we make to our clients for proper program communication and launch. Find those employees across the organization – in every office and region – who are the natural conveyers of change messages. Bring them into your process for developing and launching a strategic recognition program early, then encourage them to become your emissaries of recognition within their spheres of influence.

How does your organization try to effect change?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.