The culture-change bandwagon appears to be off and running at a fast pace. Companies are jumping on because they are desperate to compete, create new services, and get products to market faster. They have automated the simple and routine tasks and now they want to be more productive with a smaller workforce.
My fear is that in the rush to change they will overlook the hard work of preparing and supporting employees through the transition. Announcing a new, maybe better, way of doing things is the easy part. Helping people learn how to work in the new system is the challenge.
Zappos, the billion dollar online retail shoe company has implemented “Holacracy”, an anti-bureaucracy culture that eliminates managers and shifts responsibility for leadership and results to every employee. CEO Tony Hseih's intent is to enhance employee engagement and be more creative, innovative, and productive. Employees will have to learn to function without managers, to take responsibility, to take initiative, to learn from successes and failures, and to be innovative.
Accenture, a 330,000 person global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, is changing its culture dramatically by eliminating annual performance reviews and its employee ranking system. Instead, managers will provide ongoing feedback to employees based on their assignments. This change has come about because CEO Pierre Nanterme believes that employees need timely, day-to-day feedback in order to improve performance. In this new culture, managers will have to learn how to give timely and helpful feedback, employees will have to learn how to make use of that feedback, and everyone will have to learn to communicate effectively and build trust.
Seattle Seahawks, a very successful professional football franchise, might be the last place you would expect to find a culture change. But the traditional confines of macho my-way-or-the-highway leadership has been transformed into “…a learning-based organization that is hungry to figure out the challenges of expressing human potential.” Of course, it helps to have a “relentlessly positive” coach in Pete Carroll who encourages players to express themselves and who listens to his players and staff. Players and staff have to learn how to effectively express themselves, how to stay positive like their coach, and how to support each other.
There have always been maverick leaders of small companies who have experimented with a different kind of organizational structure. What we are seeing now are mainstream companies of varying size and purpose saying that they want their organizational culture to be aligned with their values and strategic goals. This is not an easy change for employees whose only experience has been bureaucratic, command-and-control, demeaning work environments. They have much to learn in order to fit in and support these alternative workplace cultures.