Want to change the culture of your organization? Adding ping pong tables, free beer and happy hours probably won't work. Putting a statement of core values on your website won't be enough either. Neither will hiring a consultant to "manage" the culture change.
To drive a cultural change, you should go upstream to the source of where your culture starts – to the people who influence your culture on a daily basis in what they support, promote, permit and ignore. That source is your team of managers.
The ability of your company to be agile, to change direction when the market requires it to and ultimately to succeed is dependent not just on your product but also on your people – and the people who play the biggest role in either helping your people thrive or crushing their motivation for work are your managers. According to 2015 Gallup research, 70% of the variance in a team's engagement depends on the manager.
Change occurs when your managers' behaviors change.
But behaviors don't change overnight. It takes hard work, practice, commitment and accountability over the long-term. And you can facilitate that change.
Since Gallup found that only one in 10 people possess a high talent for management, companies should establish leadership training programs, especially as they scale and grow.
It's important to focus on behavioral change.
Most training programs are designed to transfer knowledge, which is not an ideal model for driving sustainable change. Many of us read books, listen to podcasts, follow leaders on social media and so on, but rarely do we implement the ideas we learn into our daily lives with consistency. Knowledge transfer should be only a small percentage of the training itself. The bulk of any effective leadership training should focus on the practice.
Let’s think about how we teach a child to ride a bike. We don't expect them to learn by watching us do it or by lecturing them on the proper steps. They actually learn by doing. They learn by falling down and making mistakes, by learning from their mistakes and by practicing daily.
Thus, as I've discussed before, an effective leadership training program should focus on teaching the leaders to put their learning into action – by practicing the new habits in a safe space first and then in the real world.
Change takes time.
It doesn't end here. There must be follow-up and accountability for and by each leader. An effective leadership training program doesn't last one day or even one week; it lasts for several months and should include learning, practice and coaching throughout.
If you fail to build follow-up, practice and continual feedback into your training, both in the short- and the long-term, your leaders will likely default back to old habits.
Change is personal.
When you're rolling out new training to your team, it may be tempting to share every piece of information and fit as much as possible into the window of time you have with your group. Avoid this at all costs. The consequence is that you could lose your chance to have the leaders focus and make the learning their own. If they can't make it their own, they'll probably never put it into daily practice.
This is where coaching comes in as a secret weapon. When businesses provide a coach for each leader as a part of their learning process, leaders have a chance to internalize their learning, set their own goals for their growth and reflect on what's working for them, what's not and what adjustments they should make.
When we write our specific goals down, share them with our peers and provide accountability regularly to them, we are more likely to achieve those goals, according to a study by Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University (via Inc.). Your coaches should be key players who facilitate this action, provide accountability and support leaders' growth.
Change is a daily act.
As leaders get back to their regular work routines, they will tend to forget about these new habits unless they are integrated into their daily routines. A key step of any training program you design or choose should be supporting your leaders in not only learning and practicing their skills in workshops, but also in helping them to design and integrate their takeaways from the workshop into their daily leadership practice. I believe this is how to make their learning stick, make their behaviors change and ultimately see the organization's culture shift.
When a company has a culture built on effective leaders, ones who inspire and coach each other, it has a team that works together to reach its full potential.
And it's not easy to get there. It takes effort, energy and consistency to create the change you seek. But what would be possible if you and your team did this hard work together?
Originally published in Forbes on March 26, 2021.