If it feels comfortable, you’re doing it wrong

When clients ask me whether culture change works, I say: imagine you’ve got a living room that’s a bit pokey and dark.

If you knocked the wall through to the dining room, you’d let loads more light in and it would feel bright and airy. But that sounds difficult and expensive. It would cause a lot of disruption.

So, instead, most people decide just to redecorate the living room: new wallpaper, better lights, a brighter carpet, new sofas. It takes a bit of time and costs more than you thought it would, but at least you haven’t had to breathe in any brick-dust or shower at your neighbour’s.

For a while, you feel really good every time you go in the room: you open the door and stand there with a smile on your face.

The only thing taking the gloss off is that some of your friends don’t seem to notice. You say ‘what do you think of the new living room?’ and they say ‘it’s lovely… er, what have you done?’

After a month, the novelty wears off. You stop making your kids take their shoes off before they walk on the carpet. You let the dog sit on the sofa. After six months, you’ve completely forgotten what it was like before you redecorated.

And you’ve still got a nagging feeling that the room is a bit pokey and dark.

That’s what launching a new ‘purpose and values’ in your business is like. It looks nice. It makes you feel good for a while. But, deep down, you’re not really changing anything.

So, before you start doing any of this stuff, the most important question to ask yourself is ‘why?’ Why do you want to change your company’s culture?

Is it because you want to be a better company? Or is it because you just want people to think you’re a better company?

The only way to make a real difference to your culture – to evolve an identity and values that actually mean something to the people who work in your business – is if you’re ready to break down some walls and have some uncomfortable conversations.

Otherwise, all you’re doing is changing the wallpaper.

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