An Exercise to Help Identify Where You Need to Shift Culture

Jun 27, 2019

In our previous newsletter, we defined what culture is, how it impacts strategic planning, and the three common scenarios we see clients face between strategy and culture.

With the foundational information covered, we’re going to dig into how you can guide a shifting and changing culture in parallel with your strategic planning efforts. As we’ve previously mentioned, most organizations run headlong into some aspect of culture as they engage in the planning process. And, truth be told, many leaders simply avoid the culture conversation because it’s hard.

As a quick refresher, a simple explanation of culture is made up of beliefs and behaviors. On the surface, culture is a representation of, “the way we do things around here.” It’s the consistent, observable patterns of behaviors within an organization.

Identifying Culture

Shifting culture first starts with identifying the experiences, beliefs, and behaviors that impact your culture. We love Change the Culture, Change the Game’s explanation on this, so we’ve adapted the modeled example below to help explain:

Experience: We receive bonuses based on how many products we ship.

Culture starts with the experience you provide to your team. In this example, a manufacturing company distributes bonuses to the team based on how many products they ship, regardless of the quality of those products. This reward experience provided by a leadership team shapes the behavior and beliefs of the entire staff.

Belief: We prioritize shipping product, even if the quality is poor.

This belief is driven by the organization’s experience that bonuses are awarded based on volume instead of quality. All beliefs are driven by real-world experiences.

Behavior: We will ship product even if it doesn’t meet quality standards.

This behavior is driven by the belief and experience provided by the organization. In this example, shipping poor quality product is driven by the experience and belief that shipping high volumes of product results in bonus compensation.

Identifying Your Organization’s Beliefs

Shifting behavior and culture starts with clearly identifying the behavior you don’t like, then identifying the experiences and beliefs driving that behavior. That might sound like a daunting and treacherous task – but, it’s not. We’ve adapted this exercise and worksheet you can complete with your team from Change the Culture, Change the Game to help you identify the beliefs you need to keep, beliefs you need to stop, and beliefs you need to add to help achieve your strategic vision of success. It’s important that each member of your team complete this exercise so you can begin to find patterns across the belief system of your organization.


Step 1: Outline your vision of success.

As this exercise is intended to be inclusive to your planning process, it’s important you rearticulate and reinforce what your long-term vision of success is to your team. With your North Star clearly articulated, it prompts your team to think about what beliefs they possess and how they might impact the organization while driving towards that vision. In the worksheet, we included a place for you to articulate that vision and it’s important you have that piece filled in prior to distributing it within your organization.

Step 2: Outline the beliefs you currently possess that need to be maintained to achieve your vision of success.

Ask your team to identify the beliefs your organization currently possess that you need to maintain to achieve your vision of success. Culture shift isn’t about changing every facet of your organization – it’s about shifting and adding beliefs that help evolve your organization.

Step 3: Outline the beliefs you currently possess that you need to stop in order to achieve your vision of success.

Next, ask your organization what beliefs they currently possess that might be a roadblock to achieving your vision. Remind everyone it’s okay to be open. If a belief exists that might be a roadblock, encourage everyone to speak freely.

Step 4: Outline the beliefs you need to add to achieve your vision of success.

What new beliefs need to exist for your organization to drive towards its future state? What are they and how might they help change the dynamic of your organization for the better?

Step 5: Take it offline

Once your organization has completed the worksheet, take the exercise offline with your leadership team. Analyze the feedback your organization provided and come up with a set of common themes about what beliefs you need to keep, remove, and add to help shift your organization’s culture in order to achieve your vision of success. Once you’ve identified the beliefs you need to add, maintain, and delete, you can move on to influencing the experiences that create those beliefs.

Creating Experiences to Shift Your Beliefs

In the earlier diagram, we demonstrated how a provided experience has a chain reaction to influence the beliefs and behaviors of an organization. With the identified beliefs from the previous exercise, consider how you might shift or add experiences within your organization that would create those beliefs.

In the example, bonusing volume of shipped product created the belief and behavior that the organization should prioritize sending product even if it doesn’t meet their quality standards.

If the same organization instead wants the belief and behavior to be that the manufacturing organization only ships high-quality product, it would require shifting the experience of the employees. So, instead of bonusing employees based on how much product they ship, the experience can instead be providing bonuses based on how many defective products are pulled from the assembly line.

Applying it to Your Experiences

Using the example framework, work through your identified beliefs and consider how you might shift the experience within your organization to create those beliefs. If the experience you need to create is a big enough shift, consider how you might address that with a strategic initiative within your plan.

Remember, culture and strategy are not mutually exclusive. They work together in a balanced harmony and one can absolutely influence the other. They exist together – so adapt and make the planning process work in your favor!

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