7 Factors That Help Frontline Workers Embrace Organizational Culture Change

What do you think when you hear the words “culture change”? More important, what do your baseline employees—the women and men who get the essential and routine work done—think when they’re first introduced to organizational culture change?

From our experience, here’s how many react: “Oh, great… another bunch of buzzwords and another round of change, none of which will affect my job. I’ll just smile and nod.”

And yet the simple reality is culture change—real, sustainable change—best occurs when our frontline workers accept change as a positive move for them. After all, no one wants to have change happen to them. Or worse yet, to become a victim when change comes at them. Instead, they want to be part of the solution. The most inspired or motivated take it a step further: They want to be involved actively in the change plan.

But how do we get the majority of our people not just to go along with change—but to embrace the oncoming change? Maybe even to become change champions?

Here are seven factors that, when discussed openly and honestly, will help the average worker in your organization quickly adapt to, and become a champion of, culture change.

Talking ‘Climate’ Versus ‘Culture’ Change

For many average workers, culture change is perceived as monolithic—large, powerful and impossible to move except over the course of several years. Climate, however—how it feels to work in your organization—can be changed in a matter of days. An unexpected smile, a random act of leadership—even the next big hire—can all quickly change how people feel about coming into the office.

In other words, start change by focusing on climate rather than culture. Then develop small pockets of noticeable excellence. Soon, the simple yet impactful desire to change becomes contagious.

Transforming Leadership First

Nothing affects our approach to change like our leaders. For many organizations, however, leaders—especially those who have been around a long time—become part of the problem rather than the solution. When launching a culture change initiative, start with your leaders. Become a mentor and a role model rather than a superior.

Most important: Inspire them to sincerely embrace change, so they can inspire others to do the same.

Reimagining Employee Engagement

For three decades, we’ve tried to improve employee engagement. The result, despite billions of dollars thrown at the problem: nearly zero improvement. Why? Because we do engagement all wrong; we approach it from the management perspective. In the process, we leave the Common Man out. Worse yet, we leave them feeling manipulated.1

The answer: stop talking about engagement—the employees don’t care! Instead, open up all communication channels. Talk a little. Listen more. Learn as much as you can.

Focusing on Purpose-Driven Performance

When we first started talking about purpose-driven performance in the workplace, eyebrows were raised. Years later, here’s what we know: people—especially those in the midst of change—perform far better when they understand their specific role and how their work relates to the achievement of larger team goals and the organization’s overall mission.

As you set out to make change happen, strive to provide role clarity, reinforce professional development opportunities, and stress personal ownership. Just as important, recognize those who exceed agreed-upon expectations. When people see their performance matters, instead of change being a distraction… it becomes a source of motivation.

Delivering an Exceptional Experience of Work

What’s the trouble with change? Since the 1980s, we’ve been talking about how to change the way we work. And yet for the average worker, even with prophets like Stephen Covey and Tom Peters screaming from the rooftops, not much has changed. Many remain disenfranchised; far too many are there just to collect a paycheck.

So, as you collaborate on the change plan for your organization, focus intently on how work will be different for the people who show up every day to do their job. How will their daily lives change? What positive impact will they feel? Once they start to feel like they are coming to work every day for something besides just getting paid, good things start to happen.

Understanding Social Intelligence

Social intelligence is no longer limited to how we act as individuals in social situations; it is no longer measured by where we sit on the introvert versus extrovert line. Today, social intelligence is all about influence—how we communicate, educate and motivate, both online and offline. And there’s one thing we know about change initiatives: the back-channel discussions will begin quickly—usually on social media or internal discussion groups.

So proactively talk to your people and leaders about social intelligence. Prepare them for how to react to everything from mildly negative comments to seemingly toxic threads. Encourage them not to fan the flames of discontent, but instead to be the voice of reason.

Providing a Sense of Community

The more the world of work changes, the more people want one thing from work: They want to feel like they belong. They want to believe in their teammates, their leadership, and the organization’s mission. They want to leave the parking lot every day feeling like they contributed to the achievement of a common goal.

Enable that feeling of belonging. Let people talk—among themselves, different teams, leadership—even customers. Let them solve problems. Most important, let them see that their individual and collective work matters.

At Switch+Shift (soon to be WorqIQ), we’ve seen that for real change to happen, we can’t count exclusively on process or planning. Technology may help, but it isn’t the sole answer. Because when we get right down to it, change isn’t just a “leadership” thing—it’s a human force.

So, we must deliberately discuss how these seven factors will personally impact the average worker, — on a human level. Then, we must inspire them to take an active role in making real, sustainable change happen—with them, not to them.

After all, nothing is more powerful than one human working alongside another, both focused on achieving the same goal.

Special Opportunity: For more insights on how to communicate a change process for optimum acceptance, consider attending The 3rd Annual Ultimate Culture Conference, October 3, 2017. Featured presenters include Marshall Goldsmith, Robert Cooke, Edgar Schein, Peter Fuda and others who will take a deeper dive into the leadership and culture connection. Join us to network with and learn from the brightest in leadership and culture at this one-of-a-kind conference. Click for event and registration details.


1 Gallup, 2017. State of the American Workplace. http://www.gallup.com/reports/199961/state-american-workplace-report-2017.aspx

The Role Social Leaders Play in the Optimistic Workplace

There’s so much talk about culture these days. In fact, “culture” could once again be the buzzword of the year.

Here’s the problem: When most leaders talk about “culture”…they actually mean climate. So let’s define those two very different elements of the workplace:

What is Culture?

Culture is how an organization—good or bad—goes about their work; “…how we do things around here.” Ed Schein has said that, “Culture is not a surface-level phenomenon.” He’s explained that culture is like a lily pond: “On the surface, you’ve got flowers and things that are visible.”1

But what’s going on below the water’s surface? How did the pond get there? What is the history? These questions, according to Schein, are key to understanding culture. Culture is also about the assumptions organizations make about human nature, even relationships. It’s about the values linked to performance and people, and the norms that guide people’s behaviors.

What is Climate?

Climate is how it feels to work at an organization while the work is getting done. Climate is shaped by people’s perceptions, particularly those that ignite motivation, impacting performance, according to Robert Stringer. Climate is significantly influenced, in part, by leaders’ styles, the structure of an organization, clarity of goals, autonomy, and purpose and meaning. 2, 3

And more and more, leaders are learning the difference. They know that climate can be immediately influenced by a leader’s style; it’s a “right now” thing. And they understand that changing embedded culture is a long-term initiative—and that it can take years to see a difference.

Watch this clip from the Ultimate Culture Conference where we talk about social leadership and the optimistic workplace. You can enjoy the full video when you sign up and join our Ultimate Culture Community.

Perhaps you, as the steward of your organization, are ready to become a social leader. A leader who—rather than exert command-and-control influence—chooses to be an active listener, a relentless giver, and a mentor. A motivator who understands that meaningful relationships lead to cohesive teams. You recognize that positive emotions unlock the potential of employees. You are ready to become “Chief Facilitation Officer”—and make a difference by solving any problem or meeting any challenge by getting the right people in the right room at the right time.4

Or maybe you know that optimism is missing from your workplace—and you know that in order to turn around morale, productivity, creativity, and profits, a change is necessary. A change toward purpose-driven work and a true sense of belonging to a team whose members care about one another and the quality of their work, rather than just working for a paycheck. Where the whole person is appreciated, and not just the role he or she plays or his or her work output. You are ready to start a movement that enables your members to take on what is possible, rather than debate the reasons why it can’t be done.5

In either case, you’re ready to change the way you lead. You’re ready to make an impact.

But you don’t have to choose between being a more inspiring leader or creating a more optimistic workplace. In fact, social leadership—and the autonomous, collaborative environment a social leader creates—leads directly to a more optimistic, fulfilling, and productive workplace.6

When people feel valued and feel they are part of the solution and truly making a difference, rather than always firefighting one problem after another, they become more engaged. People work together more closely. Their personal purpose becomes more aligned with the core purpose of the organization. They become a team focused on achieving a common goal.7

And it all starts with a social leader, or as we call them, a “Blue Unicorn”—a rare beast in today’s business world.  Notice that we’re not just looking for any old unicorn—we’re looking for a specific color of unicorn. Our goal is to help these majestic, unique beasts proliferate and create a seismic shift in the way value is created for customers, the organization, and its employees.

Though rare, blue unicorns (or social leaders) are making a difference. In many organizations, they are providing their teams with actionable inspiration. And in the process, they are setting aside the willingness to settle for superficial “rah-rah” moments, and instead creating mindset-shifting “ah-ha” moments.

And all it takes is one leader, one person to say, “Hi! How are you today? How can I help?”—and mean it.

A simple act of human kindness. A moment of empathy. The deliberate act of listening first, leading second. That’s the role a social leader plays in changing the climate of an organization first—right now—and, eventually, the culture.

That is how a social leader creates the optimistic workplace—from the bottom up, middle out, or perhaps top down.

So are you ready to be a social leader? Are you ready to change the way you lead? Are you ready to make an impact? We need more Blue Unicorns and wish you well as you take this path.

We invite your comments via the social media buttons below.


1Murphy, S. (2015, October 28). Avoid These 10 Mistakes When Building Your Company’s Culture. Inc. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/shawn-murphy/10-culture-building-mistakes-all-great-leaders-avoid.html

2Cooke, R.A. (2015, December 11). How Culture Really Works: Levers for Change. ConstructiveCulture.com. Retrieved from https://www.humansynergistics.com/resources/content/2017/07/18/how-culture-really-works-levers-for-change

3Atkinson, T., & Frechette, H. (2009). Creating a Positive Organizational Climate in a Negative Economic One. Forum. Retrieved from https://cdns3.trainingindustry.com/media/2505214/creatingpositiveorgclimate_us_aug09.pdf

4Coine, T., & Babbitt, M. (2014, December 3). The 7 Attributes of CEOs Who Get Social Media. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/12/the-7-attributes-of-ceos-who-get-social-media

5Murphy, S. (2015, November 10). 7 Habits of Highly Motivating Leaders. Inc. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/shawn-murphy/7-habits-of-highly-motivating-leaders.html

6Babbitt, M. (2014, December 12). The Social CEO Infographic. SwitchAndShift. Retrieved from http://switchandshift.com/the-social-ceo-infographic

7Murphy, S. (2015, October 14). 3 Great Ways to Make Your Workplace More Positive. Inc. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/shawn-murphy/3-powerful-ways-to-create-a-positive-workplace.html