Culture Change 101: the tale of the squirrel

By: Dr. François Ducharme, Industrial and Organizational Psychologist


Many clients ask how to go about changing their organization’s culture. I usually answer that it takes time, and you need to bring the bare many different interventions to do so. And good luck!

But seriously, how do organizations change their culture, to one for instance that support Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (EDI) and anti-racism? I tell them to first identify and then communicate clearly to everyone the attributes of the culture you want for your organization. Define the culture through the behaviours you want to see. It may sound somewhat simplistic but doing so allows employees to understand what you are aiming for in terms of behaviours and mindsets support the new culture. And don’t forget to identify and communicate the behaviours that are counterproductive that you do not want to see.

Reward systems can then be aligned to these new behaviours. Employees and leaders proficient as depicting the desired behaviours or competencies must be rewarded either through new opportunities and or monetary incentives. Tying the demonstration of desired behaviours to promotion within your organization is a powerful way to send a clear message that individuals who act and make decisions with EDI in mind are given more and more senior leadership roles.

And, of course, training programs can certainly help communicate, explain and ingrain in employees the principles underlying EDI and anti-racism.

But is that it? Are these the only levers available to help change a culture in the organization? They are certainly the most popular, but they are not the only ones.

I have been a been proponent of the often-used quote of “If the job is to climb trees, would you hire a squirrel or train a horse?”

I am referring to the importance of hiring in the first-place employees with the right attitude and competencies. The goal here is when selecting new employees and leaders, ensuring they are able to showcase the requisite competencies that support EDI in the workplace is a critical start. If an organization welcomes in, from the get-go, individuals with these competencies and mindsets, a critical mass is much more quickly attained than with training or reward alone. These individuals will, day one on the job, impacts positively the culture of the organization as a whole: key behaviours supporting the desired culture become much more quickly ingrained in the collective unconscious of the organization, and transgressions to these values are quickly identified and corrected.

Given that the War for Talent is back in full force after a 2-year pandemic hiatus, now is the time for organizations to define the culture that they want and start selecting in the right employees with the right behaviours. Dialogue NB has selection tools to help organization shift and find the squirrels within the hordes of horses.


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