It is not always possible to begin at the top. You may not have a role that gives you the direct access, or the leaders may not be open to persuasion or believe that culture really makes a difference. If this is the case in your workplace, be on the lookout for supporters. Once enough people are on board, the impact will become evident. There is nothing more persuasive than seeing a team doing really well. The wise leader will want to know what is happening, and then you have first-hand evidence that how people feel makes a difference to the business.
Choose your battles carefully. Find people who are strong advocates: talk with them about great company culture and your own feelings/concerns about the working environment. Invite them to join you in creating change. Work out a plan of action together, built around testing your perceptions, changing behaviour and recording results. Do this by:
developing an action plan
feeding back results to the relevant people.
Individually test out your perceptions and assumptions. Find out whether other people feel as you do, whether they are happy at work or cannot wait to get out of the door at night.
There are a number of ways to gather information:
Seek out one or two of those people in the company who have great networks and know what everyone is doing. They can be fantastic at gathering feedback. Ask them about the ‘word on the street'.
Talk to your peers and ask about their experience of the company. Do they feel positive, excited and enthusiastic about work? Find out if they would recommend their best friend to apply for a job - this is a good measure of feeling.
Get your advocates to speak to their teams and find out how they feel about work. However, this will work only where you have a culture in which openness and honesty already exist to a certain extent. If people are unwilling to tell their manager the truth, you will get back only what they think you want to hear. If this is the case, and you have access to a budget, bring in an independent external person who can have the conversations for you while also protecting anonymity.
Engage in conversation in an informal way to find out how people feel. Be prepared to talk about your own experience to see if that resonates. Share your excitement about the alternatives.
Make it clear that you will hold personal details in confidence and that there will be no repercussions. Then make sure everyone concurs with this. If you let people down now, they will never tell you the truth again.
Meet with your advocates and share information. Look for the common themes and identify ways to address them. Make agreements about action in your own spheres of influence and share progress at regular intervals.
You may have to change your own behaviour and mindsets quite markedly. Just because you care about the changes does not mean that they will be easy to make. Supporting each other will be of paramount importance - and do not forget to celebrate success, however small.
When results begin to emerge, work out whom you need to talk to. Now is your chance to advocate on a wider basis. Gather your ‘team' of change agents and present the work you have done, the experiences you have been through, and the outputs achieved. Be clear about what has worked well and what has not worked, about the learning you have taken in, and about suggestions on how to take your initiative to the next stage.
You may be able to engage a senior sponsor through your network. If you can arrange a meeting, be ready with an ‘elevator speech', getting your point across in one minute. You want to make the most of your chance and you also never know when you might bump into someone who could help your cause. Feel free to use it on other people you meet - take every opportunity to spread the word.